SOFIA, March 25 (Reuters) - Bulgaria stayed on course to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1998 after Spas Delev gave them a 2-0 win over toothless Netherlands in a Group A qualifier on Saturday with his first international goals.
After the win at the Vasil Levski stadium, Petar Hubchev’s men climbed to third in the group standings with nine points from five matches, one point behind Sweden and four behind leaders France. Netherlands are fourth on seven.
The lively Delev struck twice in quick succession in the first 20 minutes, pouncing on sloppy defending by 17-year-old Matthijs De Ligt, who became the youngest Netherlands player since 1931.
De Ligt, who has started in just two league games for his club Ajax Amsterdam, could not have made a worse international debut as he misjudged Simeon Slavchev’s long pass, allowing Delev to poke the ball beyond keeper Jeroen Zoet after five minutes.
Delev then punished yet more hesitant defending by De Ligt with a thunderous shot from 18 metres midway through the first half. He gave Zoet no chance after De Ligt’s clearance found the head of Georgi Kostadinov, who turned provider.
Dutch striker Bas Dost almost reduced the deficit two minutes before the break but fired his close-range effort wide.
The visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the second half as Wesley Sneijder and Wesley Hoedt –- another debutant -- came on as substitutes but they failed to convert it into goals though Davy Claasen came close to scoring.
Bulgaria, missing injured keeper Vladislav Stoyanov and midfielders Svetoslv Dyakov and Georgi Milanov, produced another disciplined performance under Hubchev, leaving the Dutch to continue their search for a first win on Bulgarian soil.
Bulgaria visit Belarus on June 9 in their next game in the group while Netherlands host bottom team Luxembourg. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Clare Fallon)