Hosts Bulgaria complete winning start against Azerbaijan

25 Apr. 2023

Hosts Bulgaria complete winning start against Azerbaijan

In the last game of the maiden day of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, hosts Bulgaria took a clear win against Azerbaijan (30:19), albeit displaying some worrying attacking issues throughout the first half that need to be corrected if they are to challenge for the title.

Group D

  • Azerbaijan vs Bulgaria 19:30 (9:14)

Hosting a tournament can be a double-edged sword: it is either a chance to have some amazing support behind you or to crumble under pressure. Or it can be a bit of both. At least this is what Bulgaria felt in the opening match of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship.

It took the hosts six minutes and 42 seconds to score in the match against Azerbaijan, but what was even more important was that Bulgaria conceded only one goal. Therefore, they were not in deep trouble. It was only a matter of correcting minor errors, especially in attack, and they were going to be fine.

Slowly but surely Bulgaria did just that, especially as nearly all the outfield players entered the court in the first half, substituting the starters who had on-and-off periods. Svetlin Dimitrov, the all-time top goal scorer of the competition, enjoyed his own slow start but went off emphatically.

Dimitrov improved his overall goal tally at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship to 188 after a four-goal outing in the first half, with Bulgaria constantly pushing on and punishing Azerbaijan’s mistakes.

In fact, the turnover rate really hampered Azerbaijan’s chances, which lost 13 balls due to technical mistakes, a considerable number for a game of this size. And it was Bulgaria which capitalised on it, especially in the dying minutes of the first half, when the hosts delivered a 5:1 run to take a 14:9 lead at the break.

The question of the winner was answered quickly after only six minutes of the second half, when Azerbaijan failed to score, and Bulgaria jumped to a 3:0 unanswered run to create an unassailable 17:9 lead.

It went from bad to worse for Azerbaijan, which dropped their attacking efficiency as Bulgaria took advantage of the turnovers made by their opponents to extend their lead to 23:13 after 43 minutes, enabling coach Iliyan Vasilev to rest some of the starters with an eye on Wednesday’s match against Nigeria.

This did not deter Bulgaria, as they clinched the win and the two points, 30:19, but they still have work to do, especially in the attacking department, where their efficiency was lacking at certain moments of the game.

Bulgaria have started an edition of the IHF Men’s Emerging Championship with a win for the second time in history. They will progress to the semi-finals provided they make it two out of two against Nigeria on Wednesday. Azerbaijan have an off day and will look to earn their first win against the African side on Thursday.

Player of the Match: Svetlin Dimitrov (Bulgaria)