Mikhailov the key player for Penev

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The Independent Online
Bulgaria's coach, Dimitar Penev, has paid a generous tribute to his goalkeeper, Borislav Mikhailov, who earns his living in England with Reading.

Penev can call on world-class players like Hristo Stoichkov, Yordan Lechkov and Emil Kostadinov. However, he rates the 33-year-old Mikhailov above all others in his 22-man squad, saying: "He leads, he soothes, he inspires."

Mikhailov will be back between the posts when Bulgaria face Romania at St James' Park today. He was outstanding in the 1-1 draw with Spain in their opening match at Elland Road on Sunday, and is now hoping Bulgaria can improve on that performance against their neighbours. "We want to go into our final game against France with four points in the bag," the extrovert goalkeeper said. "We are looking forward to it as the match is like a derby. Yes, a bit like Reading v Oxford!"

The Bulgarian defender Petar Hubchev is ruled out after being sent off against Spain, and that could open the door for Tsanko Tsvetanov to return to the side. Aberdeen's new signing, Ilian Kiriakov, could miss the match after pulling a leg muscle in the opening game.

Romania's coach, Anghel Iordansecu, has to decide whether to stick with goalkeeper Bogdan Stelea, whose blunder led to France's winner at St James' Park on Monday, or to recall Florin Prunea. "I have time to think and I am sleeping badly," Iordansecu admits. "We let in stupid goals all the time. I hope it is the last time because we need this victory against Bulgaria. Nothing else will do."

The defender Daniel Prodan is expected to replace Gheorghe Mihali after being ruled out for the opening game through suspension, while the striker Dinu Moldovan may play instead of Florin Raducioiu.

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