RUGBY LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL – BULGARIA 16 SERBIA 28
Bulgaria showed a spirited performance in only their third international match to meet a young Serbian team at FC Trebich in Sofia.
Their previous games were in the 2017 Balkan Cup, both in Belgrade, when they lost 68-8 to Greece and 50:20 to Serbia.
The hosts were just behind at halftime and in the 71st minute it took an attempt by prop master Djordje Krnjeta, who crossed twice against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, to beat the guests.
Tihomir Simeonov, President of the Bulgarian Rugby League Association, said: “It was a really close game. In the end we lacked a bit of discipline, but I’m very proud of our boys, they worked hard and improved a lot. We are young and we will keep learning. We will continue to develop relationships with teams from Serbia and look forward to playing against them again. “
The kick-off was postponed for an hour due to violent storms and to protect the players from a possible lightning strike, and Serbia got off to a strong start with two unconverted attempts from wingers Uros Ilic and Nikola Mladenovic within the first ten minutes.
Bulgaria struck back when center Denis Ivanov crossed and Ali Rasol met. Hooker Mladenovic claimed his second attempt shortly afterwards, Strahinja Stojiljkovic with the conversion. Home player of the game Miroslav Debreliev scored 10:14 at break.
In a sensational start to the second half, Jeliazko Kostadinov prevailed against Bulgaria and Rasol’s conversion put them in the lead for the first time, but with Debreliev and Serbia’s best opponent Enis Bibic in the scapegoat, Serbia took the lead with a second attempt by Ilic and two more Stojiljkovic goals – the second a penalty after a fine Bibic break on his return – before Krnjeta sealed the victory.
Jasmin Bibic, Serbia’s assistant coach, said: “The game was very physical and competitive. We need that for this young team to make them stronger players. Bulgaria was very good and well prepared, they made it extremely difficult for us. Next we will continue with the games against Montenegro and Albania and this is a great experience for our team. “
The Bulgarians had entered the game with confidence after club Lokomotiv Sofia defeated Tsar Dusan the Mighty 62-12 in the Serbian Second League a fortnight ago, the first ever victory in a Bulgarian rugby league. This game was played in the Serbian city of Paracin in the stadium where the first national rugby league game was played in the region – on April 25, 1954 between Partsian Belgrade and Radnicki Belgrade.
Simenov added: “We have been part of the European Rugby League since 2017, including participating in the Balkan Super League with Locomotive Sofia and 9s. We are still processing the official recognition by the Bulgarian Ministry of Youth and Sport and are fighting for our rights. We hope that a good performance in this international match will help our cause. “
Serbian RL General Secretary Vladan Kikanovic said: “We are continuing our plan to strengthen our youth national team and support the development of the nations in the region, with games against Montenegro and Albania still to come. We took this as an opportunity to support the sport in Babusnica, where a game between Radnicki Nis and Partisan Belgrade was played last October. “
Alexander Alexandrov, Svetislav Simeonov, Denis Ivanov, Milen Nikolov, Kiril Atanasov, Marian Penov, Kristian Ivanov, Hristian Ivanov, Slavi Givmushan, Hristov Georgiev, Alex Arsov, James Mott, Miroslav Debreliev
Subs (all used): Velislav Bozev, Tomas Roch, Jeliazko Kostadinov, Ali Rasol
Attempts: Ivanov (19), Debreliev (32), Kostadinov (42)
Goals: Rasol 2/3
Andrej Marinkovic, Aleksa Zivojinovic, Uros Stojkovic, Dorotej-Dado Arnold, Uros Ilic, Luka Raskovic, Mateja Nedeljkovic, Djordje Krnjeta, Nikola Mladenovic, Strahinja Stojiljkovic, Marko Jevdjic, Luka Ilic, Enis Bibic
Substitute players (all used) Branko Sabanovic, Milos Pavlovic, Veljko Djordjevic, Batric Jevric
Attempts: Ilic (6, 55), Mladenovic (10, 25), Krnjeta (71)
Goals: Stojiljkovic 4/6
Half time: 10-14
Referee: Slobodan Manak