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Bulgarians remain in shadow of class of '94

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Jonathan Stevenson | 13:22 UK time, Thursday, 2 September 2010

When Bulgaria start their campaign to qualify for Euro 2012 against England at Wembley on Friday, they will do so with the weight of recent history set strongly against them.

After all, this is a country that has not won a game at a major tournament since 1996, not qualified for one since 2004 and finished a distant third behind Italy and the Republic of Ireland in their last World Cup qualifying group as they failed to reach the finals for a third successive time, falling to 43rd in the Fifa rankings in the process.

Despite producing players of the quality of record scorer Dimitar Berbatov, who has now retired from international football, and the Petrovs - Stiliyan and Martin - Bulgaria has been a country in freefall since losing 3-1 to France in their final group game at Euro '96.

"The Bulgarian national team is in a very difficult situation at the moment," Bulgarian great Yordan Letchkov told BBC Sport.

Yet in 1994, Bulgaria had enjoyed its finest moment as Dimitar Penev's band of extravagantly talented footballing wanderers reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in the United States, memorably dumping holders Germany out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage with a stunning 2-1 triumph.

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One-nil down to the Germans with 15 minutes left, the Bulgarians conjured up a fairytale New York fightback with the talismanic Hristo Stoichkov bending in a 25-yard free-kick to level and then the badling Letchkov hurtling himself at a cross from the right to head home a famous winner three minutes later.

"To be honest it was an easy win," the usually controversial Stoichkov said years later. "We outclassed them right from the start. It was a great World Cup; to spend a month with those amazing team-mates and achieve what we achieved was fantastic."

Bulgaria, who had never previously been beyond the last 16, saw their run come to an end in the semi-finals as they lost 2-1 to a Roberto Baggio-inspired Italy, but Penev's compellingly watchable team had raised the bar to a level The Lions have not been able to get anywhere near since.

With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side, I wondered what had become of the likes of bearded defender Trifon Ivanov, horizontally adept midfielder Letchkov and box office forward Stoichkov. So I picked out their six star players and the manager and found out what they've been up to since they set the World Cup alight and put Bulgarian football on the map...

Borislav Mikhailov (Goalkeeper)
The goalkeeper who had a hair transplant prior to the '94 World Cup was a hero in his homeland after captaining the side to the semis in the United States, but signing for Reading in 1995 proved the start of an unhappy two-year spell in England.

He ended his career in Switzerland and soon became an administrator in his homeland, taking up the role of vice-president of the Bulgarian Football Union in 2001 and being named president in 2005, a position he still occupies. His son Nikolay, also a keeper, joined FC Twente from Liverpool in the summer. Mikhailov's 102 caps remains a Bulgarian record.

Trifon Ivanov (Centre-half)
The defender became a cult hero for his "Bulgarian Wolf" looks and kamikaze 45-yard free-kicks and he had a nomadic career, wandering from country to country and once telling Neuchatel Xamax coach Gilbert Gress "You don't know anything about football" in front of all his team-mates.

Ivanov won the Austrian title and reached the European Cup Winners' Cup final with Rapid Vienna before bowing out of the game after Bulgaria's disappointing performance at the 1998 World Cup, having scored the goal that took his country to the finals. After retiring he became a businessman and owned a chain of petrol stations around his hometown Veliko Tarnovo before selling them three years ago, later opening a restaurant in the same area.

Krassimir Balakov (Midfielder)
After the mercurial Stoichkov, canny operator Balakov was widely considered to be Bulgaria's next best player, his work-rate and eye for a pass marking him out as a major threat. Aready at Sporting Lisbon at the time of the World Cup, he moved to Stuttgart in 1995 aged 29 and went on to enjoy a stellar eight-year spell at Die Roten, helping them to a German Cup win in 1997, the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1998 and a second place finish in the Bundesliga in 2003.

He soon turned to coaching with a two-year period as Stuttgart assistant and he is now alongside his old team-mate Zlatko Yankov once more as manager of Chernomorets Burgas. Balakov was recently voted Stuttgart's best player of all time.

Yordan Letchkov (Midfielder)
The hero of New Jersey, it was "The Magician" Letchkov - the balding midfielder with a little patch of hair on his forehead - who flung himself at Yankov's right-wing cross and directed a stunning diving header into the corner of Bodo Ilgner's net to send Bulgaria into the semis. The talented but unpredictable Letchkov's career took him to Hamburg, Marseille, Besiktas, CSKA Sofia (twice) and then his hometown Sliven, where he hung up his boots in 2004 aged 37.

He entered business and politics and was elected Mayor of Sliven in 2003, enjoying re-election in 2007 but was removed from the post after being charged with misconduct earlier this year. He has held a vice-president post at the Bulgarian Football Union since 2005 and has made a strong contribution to the development of youth sport in his country.

Emil Kostadinov (Forward)
The big-haired, pacey number seven went into the tournament well known after a four-year spell at FC Porto and as the man who scored twice to infamously dump France out of the World Cup in the qualifiers. He went on to help Bayern Munich win the Uefa Cup in 1996 by scoring in the final (becoming the first Bulgarian to net in the final of a European club competition), ended his 70-cap, 26-goal international career after the 1998 World Cup and retired from the game a year later.

His consolation in the 6-1 thumping at the hands of Spain at France '98 remains Bulgaria's last goal at a World Cup finals and he is now the technical director of CSKA Sofia, having previously held the post from 2000-01 and 2006-09.

Hristo Stoichkov (Forward)
The indisputable leader of the Bulgarian pack, Stoichkov is their best player of all time and a playmaking, goalscoring genius who could rival any footballer in the world of his era on his day with that wand of a left foot. Indeed it was "The Dagger's" sublime free-kick that levelled the scores against Germany as Stoichkov, who scored six goals in the tournament to share the Golden Shoe and went on to win the Ballon d'Or in 1994, proved his star quality on the biggest stage of all.

Then plying his trade at Barcelona, Stoichkov was notoriously difficult to work with and upset colleagues and employers alike during a maverick career, but in spells at CSKA Sofia and especially for Barca's "Dream Team" under his idol Johan Cruyff he was irresistible. His partnership in Spain with Brazil striker Romario was as breathtaking as it was volatile, as Manchester United found to their cost when the deadly duo linked up to devastating effect in a 4-0 Champions League rout at the Camp Nou in 1994.

After retiring in 2003 Stoichkov took up coaching, but he endured a miserable stint as Bulgaria boss from 2004-07 and followed that up with short spells at Celta Vigo in Spain and Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa, the latter ending earlier this year. There are a few to choose from, but Stoichkov's best quote? "There are only two Christs; one plays for Barcelona, the other is in heaven," he said upon collecting his Ballon d'Or.

Dimitar Penev (Manager)
Penev is widely regarded as one of Bulgaria's greatest players having made 90 appearances as a defender in the 1960s and 1970s and he took over as boss in 1991, leading them to qualification at France's expense and becoming a national hero for their run to the semis.

He has received the country's highest state order of merit and was named the most successful Bulgarian manager of the 20th century. Has flitted in and out of management in recent times, taking on the role of CSKA Sofia caretaker on the regular occasions they seem to fire their manager and he had a similar spell back in charge of Bulgaria in 2007. Penev, now 65, is the honorary president of CSKA.

Can you remember Bulgaria's performances from the 1994 World Cup? What are your memories of Stoichkov and co? And what do you expect from their current crop of players at Wembley on Friday?


  • Comment number 1.

    Why has a link to this blog suddenly replaced the link to the 606 thread on this article?

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice blog Stevo. I have great memories of that side tearing through USA 94. Hopefully they can make a comeback soon, although they may be waiting a while for players of that ilk to come along again.

    Ewan (a fellow Cloughie-inspired football fan)

  • Comment number 3.


    i prefer the 606 page than these blogs

    you can actually argue with someone properly

  • Comment number 4.

    Bruce Buck,

    No you can't.

  • Comment number 5.


  • Comment number 6.

    There was Kirakov, the ginger midfielder who looked like a fat Gordon Strachan and Tsvetanov, the powerful left back. They signed for Aberdeen in 1996 and Kirakov endeared himself to the fans by often being in the casino the night before games drinking and smoking heavily.

  • Comment number 7.

    A sound Golden Generation.

    I wonder if this summer we witnessed the Golden Generation of Uruguay.

    Ivanov was good, I liked him. Funny afce but a good player too.

    Stoichkov was good, Balkalov too. I think Kostadiniov was a bit underrated too. His goal vs France late on was magical. I hope Houllier continues to have nightmares about it considering how he tried to blame Ginola for his terrible spell in charge

  • Comment number 8.

    With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side


    Good to see the BBC taking not building up the England team again. Have you still not learnt this lesson yet?

  • Comment number 9.

    I remember the coach's son, the ungainly, ineffective and well, frankly, useless, Lubo Penev, faffing around up front. Luckiest player ever to play in a world cup semi-final!

    Great team though, they did deserve to beat Germany, and probably Italy too. One-off great generations, like Croatia in 98 or Colombia in the early 90s are tremendous for football, breaking up the usual Germany/Italy/Brazil domination. I actually thought Russia had something similar in the pipeline, but managerial genius (TM) Guus Hiddink put paid to that.

    I wonder what Letchkov did...? Was he really guilty?

  • Comment number 10.

    Stoichkov, Romario and bakero was the most incredible front line Ive ever seen with my own two eyes. He was a legend and a half that man. Plus he looked the aprt with is uber scowl!

  • Comment number 11.

    You did not mention that Bulgaria played Sweden for the third place of the 1994 world cup finals, and we saw the birth of a new star during that match - the legendary Herik Larsson announced his introduction into the big stage. What a goal he scored that day!

  • Comment number 12.

    Dimitar Berbatov, retired from International football at age 29? Somebody needs to pull his head out of his rectum methinks.

  • Comment number 13.

    Great blog and thanks for stirring some fantastic memories of a great Bulgarian side! Remember watching the Germany v Bulgaria game on holiday in Majorca - a group of us learned the Bulgarian anthem and recited it in front of a room full of Germans before the match...all was friendly until Bulgaria went 2-1 up...

    Ivanov was and remains a legend - great to hear what he is up to these days!

  • Comment number 14.

    @ hunter ..what about paul scholes ,,does he need to do the same ?

  • Comment number 15.

    #11 King Henrik! Good man and yes I remember him at USA 94

    Bulgaria were an excellent team in 94 and the guys up above were wonderful to watch: especially Balakov and Stoichkov.

    They have fallen from those heady heights though and domestically there are some very worrying things going on in some of their football clubs just now as highlighted by journalists such as Misha Glenny.

  • Comment number 16.

    Spaced Invader - wasn't '94 the Tournament Lubo missed cos of his cancer treatment? I remember him being useless at Euro 96 and France 98.

  • Comment number 17.

    Theres not much point in recounting the past here....the reality is that Bulgaria are finished as a team qualifying for the finals of major tournaments in much the same way as Wales,N.Ireland and maybe even Scotland are.

  • Comment number 18.

    Stoichkov was a great player.He still is popular in Barcelona
    and even now kids chase him for autographs.
    The problem of having a strong generation of players is that,they become
    irreplaceable and the new potential stars seldom get a chance to play and gather experience.No manager dared to take out the stars from the 94 W.C.
    till they reached ages of 32 and above.
    It lead to a total downfall and only Berbatov and the two Petrovs managed to become top players.
    The current Bulgarian team lacks speed and talent,makes tactical mistakes
    and has awful defense.
    History,though shows that Bulgaria plays well against England and if
    underestimated. the home side might be in for a surprise!

  • Comment number 19.

    @Spaced Invader - You obviously have absolutely no idea what you are talking about!

    Lubo Penev is not Dimitar Penev's son and he didn't even play in USA 94.

    He is however one of the greatest Bulgarian forwards of all times and his record for Valencia and Atletico Madrid speaks for itself.

    My guess is that if England had a player of his calibre today, you will be quite frankly worshipping him.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm 26 years old and this remains my favourite world cup. This Bulgaria team was truly amazing, and how they handed it to Germany was memorable. I think that the reason this world cup was so good was because of ALL the teams with no pre tournament hype who came forward. Nigeria, Bulgaria, Sweden...even the Republic of Ireland.

    Ivanov ha, he used to me a go-to signing for me in the early Champ Man! Solid!

  • Comment number 21.

    One of my favourite bits of footballing punditry was about Ivanov. During a match he tried a ridiculous freekick from 40+ yards and nailed it into the wall and poleaxed a member of the opposition. The commentators agreed that dispite his limited ability (compared to the rest of the talented squad) they reckoned he was always the first pick for 5-a-side practice matches just because nobody wanted to be against him in a match. Nice!

  • Comment number 22.

    Excellent blog Steve.

    I was a young boy at that time and the 94 world cup was the first one i watched.

    I remember the shock the Bulgarins caused during that wordlcup for all people over the world.If it was not for the "Divine ponytail" [Roberto Baggio],the Bulgarians would have come to the finals and could have won it since we all know that the finals in 1994 was not that interesting.

    I hope the Bulgarians come back to that glory days and create a few surprises in the Euro 2012 by qualifying for it.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was at the Germany game and still remember it as one of the most exciting atmospheres I've experienced. Although Germany dominated initially, it gradually became clear that Klinsmann was having to carry the rest of the team who were past it. During the second half, even though they were 1-0 down, you felt the Bulgarians start to sense that Germany were there for the taking. The crowd picked up on it too and many of them, including myself, switched from being neutrals who'd wanted a look at the world champions into fans urging Bulgaria on to overturn the odds.
    Ivanov was just inspired throughout the tournament - he may have looked the archetypical big stopper with a pirate beard, but his positioning and ball skills were outstanding. It's a shame he didn't come to play in England - he'd have been a huge hit.

  • Comment number 24.

    Bulgaria, a team for the moment! '94 should have been their year, a great team.

  • Comment number 25.

    AllOutAttack(#20) touched on it, and I think - despite the fact it's not really related to the blog - its worth noting that the 94 Bulgaria side were beaten 3-0 by Nigeria at the same tournament. Just goes to show how good that Nigeria side was (An article about them someday, perhaps?)

    Back on point though - Hard to believe that a side with Berbatov and the Petrovs have struggled to make an impact on the international scene

  • Comment number 26.

    The Bulgaria team of 1994 was indeed a wonderful generation of players and was one of the best stories of the 94 World Cup.

    Personally, I loved the late 80s and first half of the 90s for the number of "one-off" flair players that emerged from largely unheralded football nations. Other than Bulgaria there was Romanian's Hagi, Belgium's Scifo and Colombia's Valderrama. Set alongside the likes of Gullit, Van Basten, Maradona and our own Paul Gascoigne, it was a wonderful era.

    Rather than being based on skill or flair, football today seems first and foremost about being an athlete who can run all day - Steven Gerrard being perhaps the best example. Yet guys like Gerrard do not make me want to watch football whereas guys like Stoichkov do.

  • Comment number 27.

    First world cup i watched on the telly (yes, just gave my age away but i remember this bulagarian team, first ever team nigeria played against at the world cup and the super eagles thumped them 3-0, they had a goal disallowed too the bulgarians after that defeat though the bulgarians went and lit up the tournament. they were also in nigeria's group in france '98 but they again lost to Nigeria 1-0 and they were terrible the second time around, just like spain was but perhaps they will pick up the pieces like spain have and become world beaters again

  • Comment number 28.

  • Comment number 29.

    I was in Dallas for the 94 finals and got tickets for three matches. Two of them featured Bulgaria, who I therefore adopted as my team. Wasn't too sure after the Nigeria debacle, but then was one of about 17 Bulgaria fans in a blue-and-white-drenched Cotton Bowl as Stoichkov & co took care of Argentina (minus the ephedrine-abusing Maradona). The pleasure of the occasion was enhanced when a lovely Argie lass started fondling my bum as we queued for souvenirs after the game. You'd have to give anybody a chance against England's current bunch of losers.

  • Comment number 30.

    # 7: Uruguay had a great team in Africa, but to call it their golden generation might be a bit of a stretch considering the rich history of this South American nation. Perhaps the 1920-1930 or the 1948-1954 teams better represent Uruguayan football. I'd even put the Francescoli-Sosa-Fonseca-Montero-Paz generation ahead of the current team in terms of talent, not in terms of achievement, of course.

    As for Bulgaria, it'll be very hard for them to reignite the glory days. I really miss Hristo Stoichkov!

  • Comment number 31.

    They lost their first match in USA 94 against Nigeria 4-0, Nigeria looked awesome in that game Daniel Amokachi was up front for them and he went on to play for Everton.Balakov was my favourite from that Bulgarian team.

  • Comment number 32.

    I have great memories of that side and indeed of that world cup. My father is Italian and I supported them on their rollercoaster world cup all the way till Baggio's ironic final kick.
    Stoichkov was a genius and that was a golden generation of talent. Themselves and teir neighbours Romania really catapulted onto the worlds elite stage in the mid to late nineties. Little did I know at the time but I was later to marry a Bulgarian woman. In fact I will be watching the game tonight with her, the first time we will have watched Bulgaria play together.
    I was dissapointed that Berbatov retired from International duty which I believe is a sign of the times and it seems that this gets encouraged by some club managers. He could have offered a lot to this Bulgarian side. You don't say no to the national team. Anyway, England are facing an opponent that they should beat even though there will be some talent in Bulgaria's side it does not compare to the legends of the nineties.

  • Comment number 33.

    England have a very good record against Bulgaria and are unbeaten in the eight full international matches played since the first encounter in the 1962 World Cup Finals in Chile played at a copper mine.

    Today's match should be a fairly comfortable one for England, although they shouldn't take the Bulgarians for granted.

    Full match history England v Bulgaria:

  • Comment number 34.

    I remember watching the Bulgaria v Germany game in a youth hostel in Ayr (I was working at the Open in Turnberry at the time) and I think me and my 2 mates were the only none Germans watching the game. We sat very quietly until the final whistle then respectfully left the room and proceeded to celebrate like mad in the hallway! What joy!

    As a footnote, I think the 94 final was possibly the worst I've watched closely followed by this year's (saying that I did fall asleep watching this years such was the "excitement!")

  • Comment number 35.

    They were pretty good that world cup but you have to admit they had some luck along the way. They got drawn against Nigeria and Greece in their first two games (Greece, who were one of the few teams with a worse record in the tournament than Bulgaria so lost 4-0 to a team that had never won a match in a WC finals up to that point) so that by the time they played Argentina they'd been desimated by injuries and Maradona's suspension. They beat Mexico on penalties before that truely exquist performance against the Germans.

  • Comment number 36.

    "With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side" - Honestly, I'm beginning to think that comments like this are not a result of blind delusion, but of a form of cerebral retardism. It just never ends.

    Anyway... I remember this Bulgaria team clearly, they were the darlings of the World Cup no doubt. It's easy to forget that they were thumped 3-0 by Nigeria in their first match before seriously turning the tide against Greece and Argentina.

    It was one of those once-in-a-generation teams that not only had an excellent 1-11 of ball players (apart from maybe Penev), but each one was also a real character in his own right, almost like in a movie.

    I remember nearly doing a back flip when they came back against Germany and being bitterly disappointed they couldn't get a 2nd half equaliser against the Italians. I think a Brazil v Bulgaria final would have been a joy to watch.

    What happened to them in the first half of their 3rd place playoff against (a brilliant) Sweden was as surprising as it was galling, but what a journey. What a team.

  • Comment number 37.

    Lubo Penev, a vital member of atletico madrid's double winning team of 95/96, and of the great bulgaria team of '94 deserves a mention.
    He was leading striker in spanish football for a number of years

  • Comment number 38.

    "With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side..."

    You really never learn do you. This is the reason people want to beat England... daft journalists who arrogantly assume other countries aren't very good at football.

  • Comment number 39.

    Robbieo79 #26 has hit the nail perfectly on the ehad with what he has been saying. BAck in the late 80's early 90's there were so many fantastic players that had individual skill and brilliance that we don't really see today. The likes of Stoitkov, Hagi, Valderamma on their day were probably just as talented as the 'big names' of Baggio, Maradonna, Gullit.

    The term World Class is banded about far too much these days in my humble opinion. For me the likes of Gerrard/Lampard/Beckham et al are certainly not world class when, for me, considered alongside players of such great individual brilliance!

    For me, as an impressionable young boy at that time, this was certainly the most exciting time to watch football and USA '94 certainly through up some memorable performances. It's nice that blogs like this can stir up so many memories.

    Bulgaria were so close to going through to the final, but a Robertio Baggio inspired Italy just managed to get past them.

    My lasting memories of that World Cup was Baggio pretty much single handedly dragging Italy through to the final!!

    I forget what happended in the final though ;)

  • Comment number 40.

    36. At 10:02am on 03 Sep 2010, Pol wrote:
    "With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side" - Honestly, I'm beginning to think that comments like this are not a result of blind delusion, but of a form of cerebral retardism.

    England are ranked 7th in the FIFA rankings, Bulgaria are ranked 43rd. Would you say that to expect, say, Argentina (5th) to comfortably beat Scotland (41st) is ludicrous? I suspect not.

  • Comment number 41.

    Interesting points about golden generations

    I wonder if we could compare golden generations for periods of time instead of countries and see who we think was best:

    For example 1990 - 1995: Zubizaretta, Angloma, Maldini, Baresi, Koeman, Hagi, Laudrup, Matthaus, Gascoigne, Baggio, Romario

    1995 - 2000: Schmeichel, Cafu, Carlos, Blanc, De Boer, Giggs, Sammer, Zidane, Rivaldo, Shearer, Batistuta

    2000 - 2005: Buffon, Cole, Thuram, Cannavaro, Ayala, Nedved, Beckham, Gerrard, Zidane, Shevchenko, Ronaldo

    2005 - 2010: Casillas, Cole, Maicon, Ferdinand, Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Drogba, Messi

  • Comment number 42.

    @41 tomefccam

    2000 - 2005: No space for Figo?

  • Comment number 43.

    As someone who was in their early teens in 94 Stoichkov became something of an idol of mine. He and Hagi personified a certain type of footballer that Eastern Europe seemed to excel at producing in those days - moody, seemingly disinterested at times, a little arrogant but capable of the most amazing moments of explosive, decisive genius.

    Stoichkov was apparently almost banned for life as a teenager after he stamped on and broke a referee's foot during a match. I think my favourite Stoichkov anecdote involved his team losing a domestic cup final. Legend has it that after the game Stoichkov knocked on his opponents' dressing room door, before calmly shaking every player's hand and congratulating them. He then asked if he could look at the cup, at which point he exploded, hurling it onto the ground and jumping up and down on it, before running back to his own dressing room!

    A manouevre any WWE bad guy would surely be proud of!

  • Comment number 44.


    Good idea but too many great players in some of these eras to to choose from especially 1990-1995. And Diego was still playing!!

    As a boy I loved watching Hagi and he well deserved his title of the 'Maradona of the Carpathians': a wonderful left-footer who played in that excellent Romanian side of 94. Their game with Argentina was for me the game of that whole tournament. Happy days..

  • Comment number 45.

    12. At 4:48pm on 02 Sep 2010, Hunter Stockton wrote:
    Dimitar Berbatov, retired from International football at age 29? Somebody needs to pull his head out of his rectum methinks.


    32. At 08:38am on 03 Sep 2010, Francesco wrote:
    I was dissapointed that Berbatov retired from International duty which I believe is a sign of the times and it seems that this gets encouraged by some club managers. He could have offered a lot to this Bulgarian side. You don't say no to the national team.

    Berbatov's decision to quit the Bulgarian national team might have had something to do with this:

  • Comment number 46.

    Great Bulgarian team,watched Balakov playing for Sporting live so many times,what a fantastic player he was.he is a HERO at Sporting will be forever remembered. Here is a small video of the great Krassimir Balakov

  • Comment number 47.

    After the dreary affair that was the 1990 world cup, the 1994 world cup was a great tournament. The only thing that was lacking was a great final. The rest of the tournament was full of drama and excitment and to this day I hold more memories from this world cup than most other ones. My main highlights from supporting Ireland were Ray Houghtons superb goal to beat Italy,Paul McGrath showing the world what we already knew when he gave a masterful display in defending against Roberto Baggio, John Aldridge's foul mouth tirade at an offical when he couldn't get onto the pitch against Mexico and Steve Staunton wearing that awful white baseball hat in the line up before matches to shelter his pale skin from the searing sun. Outside of that there was great team performances from teams like Bulgaria, Sweden and Nigeria. The 1994 world cup also contained an abundance of quality players. To name a but a few; Maradona, Batistuta, Caniggia, Stoichkov,Hagi, Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Brolin, Larsson, Dahlin, Baggio, Maldini, Baresi, Klinsmann, Voller, Matthaus, Reidle, Guardiloa, Hierro, Milla, Valerrama, Amokachi, Sanchez, Scifo & Bergkamp.

  • Comment number 48.

    Oh sigh sigh sigh. There aren't second Balakov and Ivanov in our team, never would be. Going out in the middle of the night, celebrating with people I have never met before and probably would never see again - the nation was never the same after the victories over powerful Mexico, Argentina, Germany in what we Bulgarians say "Summer' 94". Let me say something more - I miss the football from 1990s. It was so disappointing World Cup 2010 - cocky, arrogant players. What I hope for not only tonight is to celebrate great performances and creative, powerful football. I am torn, so I wish good luck to both England and Bulgarian teams.

  • Comment number 49.

    Stoichkov was, quite frankly, an incredible player.

    Interesting point raised about Nigeria. One of the more 'suspicious' WC games of recent era is their 0-4 reverse to Denmark in '98. This after beating Spain and Bulgaria in the group stage, and really unluckily losing to Italy in '94. Also for 'suspicious' results, see Cameroon V Russia in '94. It's a shame that argualbly the 2 best teams to ever come out of Africa (Cameroon 90-94, Nigeria 94-98) had these bizzare capitualtions as thier epilogue.

    But yeah, Bulgaria '94, classic team, even Ipswich megastar Boncho Guenchev got a game if I remember....Also, another totally irrelevant piece of trivia I remember them banging on endlessly about - out of 60-odd players who had ever represented Bulgaria at a World Cup, USA '94 was the first time ever a Bulgarian whose name didn't end in V played for them at a WC. FACT!

  • Comment number 50.

    48 This is a legend, as there were many others, because of his unpredictable behaviour, but it's not a true story about Stoichkov.

  • Comment number 51.

    I remember clearly that same great Bulgaria side got thumped 3-0 by a devastating Nigeria side playing their first ever World Cup game, topping that group which also included Argentina and Greece. That Nigeria side were eventually denied in extra time of the round of 16 by either a questionable Roberto Baggio penalty or FIFA politics - depending on which side of the Atlantic you lean towards. But then, the English press do not like to report such events...

  • Comment number 52.

    @ Number 9 - Spaced Invader

    Lubo Penev was in fact the coach's nephew - but more importantly, he didn't play in USA 94, he got diagnosed with testicular cancer before the tournament, but he came back to play at Euro 96 and France 98.

    And as Valencia and Atletico Madrid fans will tell you, he wasn't that bad!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Dapsy - rubbish. If you remember, Zola got sent off in that game for basically doing nothing, so if there was any bias it was against Italy. And as for the Atlantic, you need to get some geography lessons son. Nigeria were unlucky to go out, but to suggest it was some kind of FIFA conspiracy is twaddle. Sending off Zola with 10 mins to go, when they were 1-0 down is hardly the sort of refereeing bias that is going to benefit Italy is it??

  • Comment number 54.

    Berbatov's record for bulgaria is breath taking. I wonder why a massive club didn't take a chance on him sooner. I was impressed with him back in 2002 and Bayer 04 Leverkusens march to the CL final

  • Comment number 55.

    @51 - Dapsy

    LOL, what does the Atlantic have to do with anything? Do you even know where Nigeria is?

    Europe (where Italy is) and Africa (where Nigeria is) are on the same side of the Atlantic.

  • Comment number 56.

    I went onto the BBC (Bulgarian Broadcasting Corporation) and I found a blog from a certain Jonathan Stevensonov on there. It read a little like this:

    When England start their campaign to qualify for Euro 2012 against Bulgaria at Wembley on Friday, they will do so with the weight of recent history set strongly against them.

    After all, this is a country that has not won a major tournament since 1966, qualified strongly for many since that wonderous achievement but always flattered to decieve and finished a distant 13th in the most recent World Cup behind such teams as Slovakia and Uruguay yet somehow rising to 7th in the Fifa rankings in the process.

    Despite producing players of the quality of record scorer Bobby Charlton, who has now retired from international football, and the Nevilles - Barry and Paul (sorry I mean Gary and Phil) - England has been a country in freefall since losing Alf Ramsey as their manager in 1973.

    "The England national team is in a very difficult situation at the moment," England great Carlton Palmer told BBC Sport.

    Yet in 1990, England had enjoyed its (2nd) finest moment as Paul Gascoigne's band of extravagantly talented footballing wanderers reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in the United States, memorably losing to Germany at the semi-final stage on penalties.....those pesky Germans.

    "Moaty, Moaty! It's me Gazza.' the controversial Gascoigne said years later. "I've got a fishing rod and a bucket of chicken! Lets have a chat" No one was entirely sure how this was relevant to our interview

    With England expected to comfortably beat Stanimir Stoilov's side, I wondered what had become of the likes of bearded lady Gary Neville, horizontally challenged midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips and box office attraction Russell Crowe. However, Neville was busy fundrasing for a small Liverpool based charity, Wright-Phillips was learning how to play football and Russell was practising his Irish accent so he could try and get a game for them instead as his grandmother once visited Cork. Mark Lawrenson was disgusted that someone who is not actually Irish could try this but that is for another blog.

  • Comment number 57.

    @41 No space for George Weah?

  • Comment number 58.

    @56 Brilliant!

    It's Sven's and Capello's faults England haven't won a thing since 1966 isn't it?

  • Comment number 59.

    Before anyone points out, I know that the World Cup in 1990 was in Italy. Apologies for the error.

    @58 Don't forget Terry Venables and 'The Wally with the Brolly'.

  • Comment number 60.

    There many including myself who think that Balakov indeed was the greatest footballer of that Bulgarian generation of stars in the 90's. Unfortunately for him he never managed to play for any of the top European clubs like Barcelona, Real, Milan, Bayern Munchen. Unlike Stoichkov - who, frankly speaking, is as great pr**k as great footballer he was, Balakov is very humbled, honest intelligent and well-tempered person. He never got the attraction of tabloids the way Stoichkov did all the time with his ridiculous behavior. My be these are the reasons he remained in the shadow of Stoichkov in the Bulgarian team and one of the most underrated players in his generation - not just in Bulgaria, but I would dare to say in Europe. I believe he would've easily fit as No 10 in AC Milan, Real Madrid or Bayern in the mid 90's and be recognized as top player a lot more world wide.
    Krasimir Balakov - Arguably the best Bulgarian player I've seen playing live.

  • Comment number 61.

    why is the fact that Balakov is 'humble, intelligent and well tempered' of any relevance to his skills as a footballer? The reason he remained in the shadow of Stoickov is because Stoichkov is one of the greatest forwards of the last 30 years, who won Golden Boots, Ballon D'or, Liga titles and European Cups. Balakov was runner up in the 1998 Cup Winner's Cup. It has sod-all to do with tabloid revelations. It seems that it is your view of Stoichkov that is blurred by his 'tabloid revelations'! Footballers should be judged by their footballing skills and achievements, not what is written about them in the gossip pages. But this is a sad reflection of the times we live in

  • Comment number 62.

    I don't think their win over Germany was easy - far from it. The Germans were on top throughout and were so close to going 2-0 ahead. Bulgaria then scored two quick goals with their only attacks in the second half - a real ram raid.

  • Comment number 63.

    Interesting article, but my memories of the Bulgarian side of that year is ofcourse the merciless beating in the hands of the Nigerian side the Super Eagles. 3-0 it ended. Nothing less is expected tonight in the hands of the Lions.

  • Comment number 64.

    weezer316 - I'm jealous you saw them live. Officially. I could never work out during the '94 World Cup who was my favourite - Stoichkov, Romario or Hagi.

    Francesco - Who should we be looking out for tonight then? Dimitrov? Popov?

    Raanraals - Thanks. That was kind of what I meant by that sentence. It wasn't really supposed to be a reflection of how "good" England are, more how far Bulgaria have fallen since '94.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments. I thought you might like to know what happened to the rest of the team that beat Germany, so I'll post on Kiriakov, Yankov and the rest in a minute...

  • Comment number 65.

    62. At 2:58pm on 03 Sep 2010, pprozac wrote:
    I don't think their win over Germany was easy - far from it. The Germans were on top throughout and were so close to going 2-0 ahead. Bulgaria then scored two quick goals with their only attacks in the second half - a real ram raid.

    I agree, and I can't see how Klinsmann carried a team that featured largely the same squad that won Italia 90, were runners up in Euro'92 and won Euro 96

  • Comment number 66.


    I never made relation between the fact that Balakov is humble, intelligent and well tempered with his football skills. I am trying to say that his fault was that he didn't act like moron and was no interest to the media whatsoever unlike Stoichkov who is in the spotlights with his ridiculous behavior. Just hours ago was released footage from yesterday's training of Bulgaria at Wembley in which Stoickov proves for endless time what a muppet he is.

    For your information I don't judge players by their club's silverware won or even by individual prices - which are even more subjective. The fact Paolo Maldini never won the Golden Ball doesn't make Cannavaro, Sammer or Belanov (last 3 defenders to win it if I'm not wrong) greater defenders than Maldini right? The way you try to simplify things like the best players are only the ones which teams win trophies or medals is just absurd. For all the things Stoichkov won he must thank a lot his teammates in Barcelona and The Bulgarian national team. He was excellent forward with powerful left shot and great pace and acceleration. But in the same time poor right foot, useless in the air, not very impressive driblling skills. His was truly lucky to play in a team as Barcelona where the huge pitch and the likes of Laudrup and Bakero feeding him from behind made him such a star at the time. It easier to win trophies with Barcelona than with Sporting - don't you think?

    Balakov was excellent with both feet (sth not that common in 90's), had great passing and dribling skills, extremely high work rate, stamina, grit everything. He was the link which bound together the entire Bulgarian midfield and the team as whole. Balakov was much better all around player than Stoichkov. But in the 90's the transfer market was not so intensified as today. Players didn't change their club after couple of seasons or even less. Clubs were limited in transferring foreign players, and Bulgaria, was not in the EU. Stuttgart were smart enough to get him from Sporting, before other big club. I would say he was a bit unlucky with his transfers. On the other hand Stoickov was a lot luckier to be spotted by Barcelona after he played against them in European cup winner's cup. That was the team which for the factors I mentioned played him to the best of his abilities. Stoickov never impressed in Italy or in the other teams he played for and apart from 94 WC was never really that influential and prolific for Bulgaria as well.

  • Comment number 67.

    I attended three of Bulgaria's matches at the 94 World Cup, not by design. The first match we went to was Greece-Argentina near Boston. After seeing our country get dismantled by Batistuta, Maradona, etc. We went to Chicago to see Greece play Bulgaria. Surely Greece would bounce back as Bulgaria had never won a World Cup match. The Greek taxi driver told us on the way to the game that he didn't expect Greece to play well as he had dropped off some girls at the Greek team's hotel around 2am. The kickoff for the game was at 11am. I think we were down 1-0 at halftime but seeing the players at halftime we knew the game was over. The whole Bulgarian team was out warming up and joking. On the Greek side, two players were sitting on the bench without speaking while Mitropoulos the geezer was slowly dribbling along the touchline. Bulgaria ran out 4-0 winners. I had a ticket for Greece-Nigeria but didn't want to see another embarrassing display but had tickets for the QF & SF in New Jersey. We were sat behind the goal that Bulgaria were attacking in the second half. Bulgaria were getting stronger and I told my cousin that Stoichkov would win a free kick and score. Within a few minutes he did just that. We also had a good view of Letchkov's diving header over a hapless Hassler. I remember the faces of the Germans who were slowly walking out of the stadium while holding their SF tickets, selling them at half price. LOVED IT. The crowd for the SF was almost wholly for Italy. There was only going to be one winner that day. It's a shame Baggio was injured in the match. As a healthy Baggio and a mysteriously unpicked Zola would have made for a better final. I think the best game of that Cup was Romania-Argentina.

  • Comment number 68.

    They wilted significantly in the heat. Bulgaria came on strong at around the hour mark, and once they actually started believing they could win, the Germans became noticably nervous and tired quickly. Also, the Klinsmann comment may stem from the fact that Mattheus was ineffective, Effenberg sent home, and Moller subdued. So what was the truer reflection of the German football, the exit to Bulgaria in 94 or the Euro 96 win 2 years later? The shockingly bad showing in the 2 tournaments after that will answer the question. In 94 all the German stars of the last 8 years or so (Hassler, Mattheus, Bremhe, Buchwald, Voller etc) were becoming a bit old. By 98 the great German side of the previous decade was gone.

    Also, Klinsmann was Blatantly their best player in 94, even in that game he was the only German player who wasn't heavy legged.

  • Comment number 69.

    Ilian Kiriakov (Right-back)

    Equally adept at left- or right-back, Kiriakov spent five years in Scotland after joining Aberdeen in 1996, going on to play for Airdrie and Raith Rovers before finishing his career at FC Etar Veliko Tarnovo, his first club, in 2003.

    There were unconfirmed rumours in Bulgaria that his business was badly hit by the financial crisis, but he is currently a scout for his old team-mate Krassimir Balakov at Bulgarian side Chernomorets Burgas.

  • Comment number 70.

    @ 56 - The_Real_Guvnor

    I've not laughed so much for a long, long time. You could almost swap the teams, years and players around and this article could apply to pretty much any team that hasn't won a major tournament in the last few decades.

  • Comment number 71.

    Tsanko Tsvetanov (Left-back)

    The Levski Sofia full-back made 40 appearances for Bulgaria overall, also taking part in Euro ’96 in England. He joined Aberdeen in 1996 but left two years later after an ineffective spell in Scotland and, like Kiriakov, ended his career in his home country with Etar in 2003.

    Since then he has been assistant manager to current national team boss Stanimir Stoilov at Levski Sofia, Litex Lovech and now Bulgaria.

  • Comment number 72.

    At 3:31pm on 03 Sep 2010, Jonathan Stevenson wrote

    In answer to your question - there is no sign Dimitrov is going to play tonight as it is believed he is injured.

    At 3:50pm on 03 Sep 2010, acmilanfan wrote: ..

    acmilanfan, if you can't be satisfied at all by Stoichkov's skills, at least it should be enough for you he had never scored a goal like the one from the French which qualified them to the 2010 Cup ; )

  • Comment number 73.

    acmilanfan - your comments are clarly biased due to your (perhaps understandable) dislike of him as a man. You say things like 'Apart from 94, he never impressed for Bulgaria', as if leading the country to their greatest ever performance wasn't enough. Also, you say he didn't do much outside Barca - well he was 30 when he left, and won pretty much everything possible when he was there, plus wonn multiple titles and scoring titles with sofia previous to that. I think he won a league title in like 8 out of 10 seasons. Surely you can't put all this down to the quality of his team mates, especially since he was very often preferred to Laudrup due to the 3 foreigners rule, and he scored over 20 goals in pretty much every seasson in his first spell.

    Before he moved to Barca, Real had won the title 5 years in a row. After he arrived, Barca won it 5 years in a row. Can he not take a lot of the credit for this?

    Yes the amount of medals doesnt necessarity equate to a players skill. However, not just any mug can be voted european footballer of the year. I would think this is an award that Stoichkov won independant of his tabloid escapades, and an awrd that Balakov was never in contention to win

  • Comment number 74.

    The_Real_Guvnor - Very, very good.

    Petar Houbchev (Centre half)

    Houbchev ended up as a sweeper for Dimitar Penev’s team, roaming in front of the back four when they had possession and helping Ivanov out when Bulgaria were defending. His fine performances for the national side had already helped him seal a move to Hamburg in the Bundesliga prior to USA ’94 and he ended his career with Eintracht Frankfurt in 2001 after a five-year spell at the Waldstadion.

    A career in coaching ensued, with Houbchev first taking on the role of national team assistant coach and then in 2009 being named PFC Chernomorets Pomorie manager in the Bulgarian second tier.

  • Comment number 75.

    Stevo. Thanks. No slight intended at your original article you understand. I look forward to the Infostrada calculations of a Wales win later tonight.....Anything above 10% is a bonus.

  • Comment number 76.

    Zlatko Yankov (Midfielder)

    The Claude Makelele of the team, it was Yankov's job to hold the fort while the creative players around him did their business. Capped 80 times, Yankov was another one who travelled around Europe playing for several different clubs, among them Real Valladolid in Spain, Uerdingen in Germany and Besiktas in Turkey, also ending his career with his hometown club, Naftex Burgas, in 2002.

    He went into administrating and is currently the technical director at top flight team PSFC Chernomorets Burgas.

    The_Real_Guvnor - Of course ;) Fancy Wales tonight, though. With Gunts and Earnie in the team, I feel like all Forest fans should support Wales.

  • Comment number 77.

    There is no point of convincing us that Balakov was better than Stoichkov.
    Everyone ,who is familiar with football around the world will tell you that
    Stoichkov is the best all time Bulgarian player.
    The only exception are the fans of Levski Sofia,who do not like him,because he played for CSKA, their biggest rival.
    There was a game between the two teams in which Stoichkov scored four goals and in the next game he came out wearing a shirt with number four.
    That event,the transfer to Barcelona and his successful career. triggered envy and dislike from rival fans and some journalists which even today
    are still after him.

  • Comment number 78.

    Nasko Sirakov (Striker)

    The then 32-year-old came back into the team in 1994 after they opened the tournament with a 3-0 defeat by Nigeria and the Bulgarians never looked back. Sirakov bagged the second in the next game against Argentina and used his vast experience - after a career spent at Levski Sofia (four times), Spartak Varna, FC Haskovo, Real Zaragoza, Espanyol and Lens - to good effect as Stoichkov and Kostadinov played off him.

    Sirakov bowed out of international football after Euro ’96 and took on the role of assistant coach with the national team, though that position came to an end after the World Cup in France in 1998. He was executive director of Levski Sofia from 1999-2003 and 2004-2009 and is now responsible for the Bulgarian national teams at every level from youth to senior. He'll be at Wembley this evening.

  • Comment number 79.

    17 year old's blog on sport

  • Comment number 80.

    Comment 56 - The real Guvnor

    Brilliant work fella, loved reading your take on matters more than the original blog itself!!

  • Comment number 81.

    I wouldn't say I am not satisfied by Stoickov skills - what I am saying is that he had specific skills (speed, acceleration, left foot) and was not really an all-around player like Balakov who surely was. Stoichkov though was a leader on the pitch - I can't take that away from him. The contrast is even bigger compared to Berbatov - probably more gifted and skillful player than Stoickov, bu the lack of right attitude and mentality prevents him of being a really outstanding striker.
    My comments may be biased (personally I don't think so as try to stick to facts - his skills and what he own - not just the trophies but the circumstances led to that.
    jolshopsatoxfam I would say the way you pick and build over your arguments is quite biased or one dimensional. Laudrup was the key of that Barca team from the early 90's and I reckon that until Romario's arrival Barca foreign trio was usually Koeman, Laudrup, Stoickov - Laudrup was a important factor to Stoickov scoring ratio in Barca. As for Madrid - Barca comparison - don't forget also that Real team which dominated the 80's in Spain (Butragenho, Michel, Sanchez, etc.)was aged in the beginning of 90's, Barca were rising force even before Stoichkov arrival, but he surely helped.
    But had he gone to Sporting Lisabon instead of Barcelona and Balakov - let's say to AC Milan (always thought he would do really well there), we probably would be discussing another story.
    Yes Stoichkov won Golden ball - but I don't want to go into it, because you will say I'm biased LOL. Just remember for what they gave it to him, 94 CL Final and would Stoickov won it, if Baggio didn't miss that penalty against Brazil in the WC final.
    I mean just look how ridiculous became the Golden Ball award - no disrespect but CR won the Golden Ball - thanks to the mere fact that John Terry missed that crucial penalty in Moscow. Had John Terry scored and Chelsea won it back there - would've been Chelsea player for sure. Probably Droghba - which shows how subjective became this award.
    So I don't deny Stoichkov's qualities but he had lucky career unlike others - and as you in life usually you better be lucky than good.

  • Comment number 82.

    I can't understand why the Bulgarian Team is discribed like "unsucessful".All I can see is that the English Team had terrible play, they even couldn't play in more than 3 games this season .They can't play at all.So please don't write like that for the Bulgarian Team. The English player are just reach people in one team, they are not proffecionals.We all saw them....they just can't play this game.This article is not trough. Don't try to say how good England is, cause England is in the bottom of the game.England is just big articles,big words, a lot of advertising materials in all stores....and in the end - nothing .They just spend the money of the poor people paying taxes.
    That is my opignion
    Thank you

  • Comment number 83.

    I like to congratulate Jonathan Stevenson for the detailed information
    and the memories, which he brought back to us of the great 1994 World Cup
    and the Bulgarian golden generation.

  • Comment number 84.

    I watched the 1994 Bulgaria v. Germany game in a famous bar in Palo Alto, California just prior to going the Sweden v. Romania game at Stanford in the afternoon. It had been a brilliant World Cup to that point. I had already seen Brazil three times and they were the dead certs to win it because they finally had a defense that could actually defend. That part of California had been rocking all month because of the Brazilian invasion of the area. The bar was packed and hot and everyone thought the Germans had won the game and would defend their 1-0 lead, but the Bulgarians kept playing well, damn well. Then the freekick went in and the place went nuts. Some German supporters looked nervously around. Then it happened. I can still remember Letchkov's cannonball header to this day. It was such a vivid memory. The ball flew in and Letchkov just threw everything he had at it. It was an unstoppable rocket smashed into the middle of the almighty Germany goal. And they had won it there and then. Forget the rest of the game. The Germans were down, out, and buried and Bulgaria reigned supreme. The best line from from the commentary was "This isn't a great day for Bulgarian football, this is an historic day for the country of Bulgaria!". Never a true word was spoken. After the final whistle everyone was pumped and singing the praises for Bulgaria. Then some idiot in the bar started singing the shortest version of "Deutschland Uber Alles" I've ever heard... especially when the entire bar rushed him so all that came out was "Deutschland, Deutschland, AAaaaaggghhh!"
    Then we went off to see the Sweden v. Romania game, which was a great game in its own right.... but that's another story.

  • Comment number 85.

    When you look at the England team that will be put out. The only inspiration will be the Bulgarians rubbing their hands with glee:

    As Frazer said in Dads Army - Ey Were all DOOMED, DOOMED I tell ya

  • Comment number 86.

    Always nice to read about the 1994 World Cup. A massive part of my childhood memory as it was the first World Cup I can remember. I remember Bulgaria beating Germany, and being happy about it, possibly because they were the underdogs, I can't remember.

    The best Stoichkov quote? The one where he said thinking about Real Madrid made him sick.

  • Comment number 87.

    4-0 is a convincing win. England has made a positive start to their Euro campaign. Congratulations to hat trick scorer Jermaine Defoe.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 88.

    Btw in June 1995 - about an year after 1/4 final between Germany and Bulgaria both teams met in Sofia in qualifying game for Euro 96. The game was not a less thriller than the previous one.

    Germans took early 2:0 lead in the first half and thought they've won the game and revenged the WC defeat. But it wasn't meant be.

    Bulgaria came back to win it 3:2 with 2 penalties by Stoichkov and 1 goal from Kostadinov. Amazing game!!!

    Thinking of it now - to come back once from 0:1 to win 2:1 and then from 0:2 ti win 3:2 against Germany - probably the best European team at the time was something really special. Not sure but I think that between 92 Euro final and 96 Euro final the only two official games lost by Germany were these two against Bulgaria!


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