България / Balgariya / Bulgaria
- Capital: Sofia / София / Sofiya
- Official Languages: Bulgarian
- Nicknames: Лъвовете / Lavovete (The Lions); Лъвиците (The Lionesses)
- Association: Български Футболен Съюз / Balgarski Futbolen Sayuz (BFS)
- FIFA Code: BUL
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Fourth Place (1994)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (1996, 2004)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 8th (June 1995)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 33rd (December 2008)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 96th (May 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 79th (July 2019)
- Most Capped Player: Stiliyan Petrov – 105 caps
- Top Scorers: Dimitar Berbatov & Hristo Bonev – 48 goals
The Republic of Bulgaria is situated in the southeast corner of the European continent, on the shores of the Black Sea. Its history in international football stretches to 1922 when the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) were founded, although it wouldn’t be until the 1960s when the Lions would have an impact on international football. Bulgaria qualified for their first major tournament by reaching the 1962 World Cup held in Chile. The side would qualify for the next four World Cups although not being able to progress beyond the group stage in their four appearances, although they did manage to make the Round of 16 in the 1986 World Cup before losing to the hosts, Mexico, 0-2 at the Azteca Stadium.
However Bulgaria’s golden era would be in the 1990s when a team laden with exceptional talent (with FC Barcelona’s Hristo Stoichkov being the obvious standout player) managed to surprise the football world by progressing to the semi-finals of the competition, defeating the defending champions Germany in the quarter-finals of the competition. Unfortunately their campaign was halted with a 1-2 defeat to Italy in the last four, before losing the 3rd placed playoff to Sweden. However their fourth-place finish was an incredible achievement and made household names of the likes of Trifon Ivanov, Emil Kostadinov, Yordan Letchkov and Krasimir Balakov. They would also qualify for their first ever European Championships two years later, but were unfortunate to miss out on progresion to the knockout rounds by missing out by a single point despite being in a ‘group of death‘ with France, Spain and Romania. Sadly the Lions‘ fortunes have faded since then with the team last appearing in the 1998 World Cup and 2004 European Championships. Today, Bulgaria are currently within the third-tier of European football (having been relegated to Division C of the UEFA Nations League) with the magical days of the 1990s seemingly light years away…
Talking about the Lions, who have sadly suffered a slump in their international fortunes recently, is the excellent Metodi Shumanov. A Bulgarian football writer, who has contributed articles and pieces to many respected sports sites such as @guardian_sport, @skysportsnews, @fourfourtwo, @11freunde_de, and @RevistaPanenka. To find their website and social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Website: https://www.tfmethods.com/
- Twitter: @shumanskoo
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tfmethods/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tfmethods/
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Oh, that’s never an easy question to give an answer to! But I would go for Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria’s sole Ballon d’Or winner, and Dimitar Penev, the coach who led our national team to the 1994 World Cup semi-finals. That crazy summer in the USA was second to none!
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
The late Trifon Ivanov because of his larger-than-life personality. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. He was a brilliant defender, didn’t care particularly about what people thought of him and once bought himself a tank from the Bulgarian army – just for the sake of it!
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Bulgaria currently?
The fact that I can’t give a straightforward reply speaks volumes. The team has underperformed and underachieved massively in the last decade. I personally think CSKA-Sofia winger Georgi Yomov might be one to keep an eye on.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Unfortunately, we haven’t made it to a major tournament since Euro 2004, feels like ages now! We’ve just got a new coach – Yasen Petrov – who’s now facing an uphill task to deliver some results…
Q. Are there any Bulgarian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
I hope Filip Krastev, an ex-Slavia Sofia midfielder who Manchester City’s football group paid €2.3m last year for, could live up to his potential. He just joined French side Troyes, part of that same City group. We basically don’t have any players in the big leagues right now so I hope he can get promoted and then establish himself in the French top-flight.
Q. Looking at Bulgaria’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
There are two games that are way above the rest in terms of significance – the first one is the 1993 World Cup qualifier against France in Paris which we won thanks to Emil Kostadinov’s last-minute winner. That match sent our team to the 1994 World Cup and the rest, as they say, is history! The second game is the 1994 World Cup quarter-final against Germany – we beat the then reigning champions, coming from behind!
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Both in 2019 and 2020 we won just one game throughout the whole year! And in the second case it was a friendly against Gibraltar at home… No more words are actually needed I think.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Bulgarian national team?
The best thing is to share the feeling of joy with everyone in your country. When the national team does well, suddenly everybody becomes interested in the team’s results. In the case of Bulgaria, unfortunately, the recent results have gone from bad to worse and it looks like a lot of people just don’t care about the team anymore.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
There is a particular chant, a really short one – it roughly translates as ‘Bulgarian heroes!’. It’s a common thing to hear it during the games of the national team.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
For some reason, I really like the shirt we played our Euro 1996 qualifiers in. Of course, the 1994 World Cup jersey deserves an honourable mention as well!
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Bulgarian national team?
To qualify for a big tournament in the upcoming decade!
A massive Благодаря ти много to Metodi for answering our questions on the Bulgarian Lions. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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