Experience keeps travel sickness at bay
Euro 96: CHAMPIONSHIP COUNTDOWN: No 6 Bulgaria
Saturday 25 May 1996
The bulk of the side survives from America, though several had poor domestic seasons. Hristo Stoichkov has not been a success at Parma but at least he has played regularly. Emil Kostadinov and Yordan Lechkov have been out of favour in Germany while Reading's Borislav Mikhailov and Hamburg's Petar Hubchev have suffered from injury.
Yet Kostadinov regained favour in time to win a Uefa Cup medal with Bayern Munich and Luboslav Penev has helped Atletico Madrid to the brink of the Spanish league title. Both Krasimir Balakov and Ilian Kiriakov have been in good form, the latter earning a transfer to Aberdeen.
Bulgaria have never previously qualified for a finals tournament. In 1968 they reached the last eight, which was then a knock-out stage, when they lost to Italy partly because of an own goal by Dimitar Penev.
Penev, who won 90 caps, has since redeemed himself by becoming the first Bulgarian coach to forge a team from their often volatile talents. His nephew, Luboslav Penev, who overcame testicular cancer earlier in his career, is likely to be the focal point of a fluid and dangerous attack. Stoichkov will be alongside, interchanging with Kostadinov, while Balakov and Lechkov are adept at raiding from deep positions.
They can be very impressive on the counter-attack but are not so clever defensively, as Emil Kremenliev's Keystone Kops display against Steve McManaman at Wembley illustrated. The way Les Ferdinand brushed Trifon Ivanov aside to score does not augur well either.
Other doubts surround their strength in depth and their age. That Boncho Genchev, just relegated to the Second Division with Luton Town, is in the squad speaks volumes for the former while the youngest player used in qualifying was 26. The problems are related, Bulgaria's economic difficulties mean that good young players are no longer being produced and the domestic league has slumped in standard.
The flip side is that the team are both experienced and used to playing with each other. Most are also used to playing abroad. In the past Bulgaria were very poor travellers.
They are in a demanding group but will have a psychological edge over France - who they knocked out of the World Cup in Paris - and plenty of motivation against neighbouring Romania. Their fate may depend on a good performance in the opening game, against Spain, where Stoichkov will renew a few acquaintances.
Borislav Mikhailov Reading
Dimitar Popov CSKA Sofia
Zdravko Zdravkov Slavia Sofia
Emil Kremenliev Olympiakos
Trifon Ivanov Rapid Vienna
Tsanko Tsvetanov Waldhof Mannheim
Petar Hubchev Hamburg
Ilian Kiriakov Aberdeen
Gosho Ginchev Denizlispor
Radostin Kishishev Neftochimik Bourgas
Zlatko Yankov Bayer Uerdingen
Yordan Lechkov Hamburg
Daniel Borimirov 1860 Munich
Boncho Genchev Luton Town
Krasimir Balakov VfB Stuttgart
Ivailo Yordanov Sporting Lisbon
Emil Kostadinov Bayern Munich
Hristo Stoichkov Parma
Nasko Sirakov Slavia Prague
Luboslav Penev Atletico Madrid
Georgi Donkov CSKA Sofia
Ivo Georgiev Spartak Varna
Player to watch
If his left foot does not catch the eye, his temperament should. He has previously been banned for life for his part in a brawl (later rescinded) and for three months (for stamping on a referee's foot). Had a disappointing time at club level since being named 1994 European Player of the Year but has continued to score for Bulgaria. Followed the World Cup, where he was joint top scorer, with 10 goals in as many qualifying matches. Another good tournament will lead to mixed feelings at Parma, but it might help them recoup some of the pounds 5.5m they spent on the 30-year- old.
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