Soccer success kick-starts Bulgarian self-confidence

AFTER nearly five years of struggling in the lower reaches of East Europe's second division, Bulgarians at last have something to cheer about: the astonishing success of their footballers in the World Cup.

The Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians - who early in the post-Communist era broke away to form their own super 'Visegrad' league - did not even make it to the United States for the finals. Even neighbouring Romania, also hitherto seen as Balkan no-hopers, only got as far as the quarter-finals.

Whatever the outcome of last night's semi-final against Italy, the Bulgarian squad had already secured its place in the history books, and in the hearts and minds of a grateful nation.

'This is the greatest feat anyone has ever done for this country,' declared President Zhelyu Zhelev after the 2-1 victory against reigning champions Germany on Sunday. 'The government has not done anything like it; the President has not done anything like it. It is the players who have done it.'

Bulgaria's endless political squabbles have been firmly set to one side as all eyes have been on the progress of the team. So, too, has the frequent moaning about the difficulties of the transition to a market economy, high unemployment and inflation.

'In the current climate, such problems are dismissed as 'those little things',' said Veselin Toshkov, a Sofia-based journalist. 'The news starts with soccer, carries on with soccer and ends with soccer: nothing else matters.'

When the final whistle blew at the end of the match against Germany, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Sofia in a frenzied celebration that in its scale and intensity outdid anything in the revolutionary days of 1989-1990.

The gunshots ringing out in celebratory salvoes across the city reflected more than simple jubilation at the success of the national team. For many Bulgarians, the World Cup run has put their country firmly on the world map and has restored some badly needed self-confidence. 'From a generally depressing picture, the World Cup has come as tremendous news for all,' said a Western diplomat in Sofia. 'Going out and showing that you can not only compete with a team like Germany but actually beat it gives the national identity a great boost.'

Many Bulgarians are hoping there will be long-term spin-offs too: particularly in the form of increased investment from the West, and a general sense of Bulgaria as a nation of achievers. Realistically, few expect the country's economy to become as strong as those of the Visegrad Four, which are considered to be in the fast lane towards integration into the European Union and Nato. But they do feel that they have now shown they have something to contribute to the new Europe.

'The success of both Bulgaria and Romania has shown that Balkan countries can offer a bit of flair and new life to a Northern Europe that appeared to be getting rather stale and staid in its ways,' said the diplomat. 'The World Cup has shown that the people from this part of the world possess real flair and talent - and they are sure it is not confined to the football field.'

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape