Bulgaria's home win over Montenegro tonight kept them in with an outside chance of troubling Italy and the Republic of Ireland at the top of Group 8 in European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
They had to come from a goal down, however, after Steven Jovetic had put Montenegro in front in the ninth minute. It stayed 1-0 until Radostin Kishishev equalised on the stroke of half-time, and although Dimitar Telkiyski put Bulgaria in front four minutes after the break, it was only an 85th-minute Dimitar Berbatov penalty and an injury-time goal from Valeri Domovchiyski that made the scoreline appear so comfortable.
The entire first half belonged to a spirited Montenegro side, strong in defence and on the counter-attack. Jovetic was a pivotal figure and the man behind numerous dangerous attacks on Dimitar Ivankov's goal.
It was appropriate that Jovetic should open the scoring with an unstoppable shot from almost 30 yards. Montenegro remained in control until Bulgaria captain Berbatov won a ball at the edge of the penalty area and laid it off to Kishishev, whose low shot from just outside the area was on target to level the score.
It was Berbatov again who was the scourge of the visitors, receiving a pass from Martin Petrov and threading the ball through the defence for substitute Telkiyski to score from close range. Montenegro were rattled and unable to find a response.
But the outcome remained in doubt until another Berbatov run ended in a foul by Ivan Fatic, and then a successful spot-kick by the Manchester United forward.
Montenegro goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic needed to be at his best in the final minutes to keep the score respectable, making two outstanding saves only to end up conceding again. Berbatov was once more the provider, surging through the middle of the defence and passing to Domovchiyski for another close-range finish.