🇧🇬 BULGARIA 🇧🇬
The Bulgarian championship was established in 1924. Dominated for a long time by the capital’s two big clubs, CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia, today the country must also count on a club such as Ludogorets Razgrad which has substantial resources and has been growing in strength since 2012 with 9 consecutive championship titles.
The fourteen best clubs in the Bulgarian championship meet in a single pool followed by a playoff phase, the A Professionnal Football League, where they compete four times, two at home and two away. At the end of the Bulgarian championship, the last in the ranking is relegated to the second division, while the penultimate must go through a promotion-relegation play-off against the D2 runner-up. The champion is the team collecting the most points at the end of the two phases and qualifies for the Champions League. The second-placed team is returned to the Europa League and the winner of the European play-off.
It was a group of students from Istanbul who are said to have introduced football to Bulgaria and created the first official team in 1909.
However, it was not until 1 January 1923 that football was properly organised, with the creation of the Bulgarian National Sports Federation. A year later, Bulgaria became a member of FIFA and in 1924/25 the first national championship was held with the participation of six clubs.
The country also played its first international match that year, losing 6-0 to Austria in Vienna, which presaged six long years without a victory. In the end, Bulgaria defeated Romania 5-3 in Sofia, and went on to win their first trophy in 1932. The national team outclassed Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece to win the Balkan Cup.
In 1937, a new ten-team Bulgarian championship was inaugurated, with the winners being determined by a points system for the first time. A national cup competition, the BFS Cup, followed in 1945. In 1954, the Bulgarian Football Union joined UEFA, the new governing body of European football.
Bulgaria was now under communist hegemony and many of the top clubs represented the state authorities. The most notable examples were PFC CSKA Sofia, the army team, and PFC Levski Sofia, linked to the Ministry of the Interior. Between them, these clubs have won more than 70 titles.
This tradition still holds true as PFC Beroe Stara Zagora, Spartak Plovidv, Botev Plovdiv, PFC Lokomotiv Sofia, PFC Etar Veliko Turnovo, PFC Litex Lovech, PFC SlaviaSofia and PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936 were the only other clubs to win the Bulgarian championship.
In 2012, PFC Ludogorets established themselves as the dominant force in Bulgarian championship football by winning the first of their five consecutive league titles. The Razgrad outfit also qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League twice.
Success on the international stage has been rarer. Bulgaria‘s only moment of glory was a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Nevertheless, the national team has qualified for seven FIFA World Cups. They finished 4th in the USA in 1994, after eliminating defending champions Germany in the quarter-finals.
Bulgaria‘s UEFA European Championship record is less impressive, however. Prior to UEFA EURO 2004™, the national team had only participated in one finals, EURO 96.
Bulgaria has not been short of talented players, however. Georgi Asparuhov was perhaps the country’s greatest player: the fiery centre-forward played for Levski but saw his career end prematurely, having died in a car accident in 1971. However, it is Hristo Stoitchkov who is most celebrated, with Dimitar Berbatov, the country’s all-time top scorer, and Styliyan Petrov also having shone abroad since then.
Stoitchkov became famous for scoring an impressive number of goals at CSKA, the capital’s other big club, in the late 1980s. This led to a move to Barcelona, where his reputation grew and he won four consecutive Spanish league titles and the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1991/92. Voted European Footballer of the Year in 1994, he is the example for the new Bulgarian generation to follow.
A former Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Tottenham and Manchester United striker, Dimitar Berbatov became the most decorated player of the millennium, winning the Player of the Year award a record seven times. Berbatov also became the highest scorer in the history of the Bulgarian national team, with 48 goals.
Stiliyan Petrov became Bulgaria‘s most-capped player (106 caps), while his battle with leukaemia also captured the hearts of thousands across Europe.
The official website: fpleague.bg