More than just a hairy hard man

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The Independent Online
As if his appearance was not already sufficiently threatening - long hair, wild beard and a cold, sinister stare - Trifon Ivanov was sporting a shining black eye when his side drew 1-1 with Spain at Elland Road last Sunday.

The 30-year-old defender is a fearsome sight at the best of times, and this additional facial decoration merely enhanced his reputation as a hard man. Ivanov's qualities will be needed more than ever at St James' Park today, where the Bulgarians take on their Balkan neighbours, Romania, minus his experienced defensive sidekick Petar Hubchev, who was sent off against Spain.

In that match, Ivanov did more than most to restrict the capable Spaniards to one, slightly lucky, goal. He is much more than just a hatchet man, he is quick over short distances and reads the game well. His long-range shooting is also a potent weapon: against Spain he twice worried Andoni Zubizarreta with shots from around the 30-yard range that shaved the woodwork.

His only goal in nine appearances in the qualifiers was a long-range blast: it was scored in the fifth minute at Cardiff Arms Park and it set up the Bulgarians for an arrogant 3-0 win, in which he did more than most to show the debutant Vinnie Jones how to be a tough guy and a footballer.

Although Ivanov has established himself on the international stage, his club career has not taken him to any of Europe's glamour clubs. After leaving CSKA Sofia, he had spells at Real Betis in Spain and Switzerland's Neuchatel Xamax before moving last summer to Rapid Vienna, whom he helped to the Cup-Winners' Cup final. While with Neuchatel he had a trial with Coventry - which ended when he was sent off in a reserve-team fixture.

Rupert Metcalf