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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France Qualifies at Bulgaria's Expense

NEWCASTLE, England -- France gained long-awaited and sweet revenge Tuesday when it beat Bulgaria 3-1 to march into the quarter-finals of the European championship.

France's intoxicating mixture of passion, flair and technique proved too much for the Bulgarians, earning it a last eight meeting with the group A winners Saturday.

The win extended France's long unbeaten run to 26 games dating back to November 1993 when, in injury time in Paris, Bulgaria scored the late goal which took it, instead of France, to the 1994 World Cup finals.

This time France was left celebrating at the end of a riveting spectacle.

Goals by sweeper Laurent Blanc, after 21 minutes, and luckless Bulgarian striker Luboslav Penev, in his own net, after 63 minutes, put the French in command.

On the second goal, Youri Djorkaeff's firmly-hit shot was first fisted away by Borislav Mihailov. He then swung in a left-wing free kick and Blanc climbed with Penev at the near post.

While Blanc attempted a glancing header, the ball actually flicked off Penev with Mikhailov well beaten and the ball once again wound up in the back of the Bulgarian net.

Hristo Stoichkov, with his third strike in three Euro 96 appearances, from a perfectly-placed 69th minute free-kick, gave Bulgaria late hope of salvaging a draw.

The Bulgarians were awarded a free kick eight meters outside the French penalty area and Stoichkov knew exactly where he was going to place the ball.

The Parma striker curled a left-footed shot over the defensive wall and the diving Lama couldn't get his fingertips anywhere near the ball as it flew into the top right hand corner of the net.

In the final minute, Loko raced clear of a tiring Bulgarian defense, pulled the ball round a scrambling and grounded Mikhailov and fired into the net.

Mihailov was making a record 97th appearance for his country in the match. It is presently unclear whether the goalkeeper will keep his job for the 1998 World Cup, which will be hosted by France.

With Spain beating Romania 2-1 in the other final group B fixture in Leeds, Bulgaria was eliminated from the tournament despite their vigorous and colorful display.

For Stoichkov, in particular, this was a great pity because his mixture of artistry, anger and danger made him one of the most watchable strikers in the tournament. (Reuters, AP)