Bulgaria
© AFP

Qualification history
Though they have a solid FIFA World Cup™ pedigree, in recent times Bulgaria have fallen far short of their glorious highs of the mid-1990s. The senior side have not reached the final tournament since France 1998 and, in the preliminary phase for South Africa 2010, ended up in third place in their group behind Italy and the Republic of Ireland. They did, however, garner positive results in the shape of a 6-2 thrashing of Georgia and a 0-0 draw with the 2006 world champions, though they also fell to a crushing 4-1 defeat against Cyprus.

FIFA World Cup finals history
Including their first FIFA World Cup appearance at Chile 1962, Bulgaria have taken part in seven editions of the global showpiece. The Bulgarians’ best campaign came at USA 1994, when a team spearheaded by fiery forward Hristo Stoichkov finished in fourth spot. Though they made it back to the finals four years on at France 1998, that was their last appearance to date at world football’s top table.

The current crop
Bulgaria fared reasonably well in a tough UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying section also containing South Africa 2010 participants England and Switzerland. Now without all-time top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, who has retired from international football, Bulgaria are endeavouring to turn the page thanks to a blend of veterans, such as captain and midfielder Stilian Petrov of Aston Villa, and youngsters making the leap from youth level. Catching the eye in the latter category are forward Ivelin Popov, who plays in Turkey with Gaziantepspor, centre-back Ivan Ivanov of Russian outfit Alania Vladikavkaz and CSKA Sofia wide-man Spas Delev.

The key players
The experience of established performers such as Martin Petrov and the aforementioned Stilian Petrov dovetails nicely with the vibrancy and youth of the likes of Popov and Ivanov. Fans will be hoping this promising mix can lead to a successful Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, thus taking Bulgaria back to the finals for the first time since 1998.

Coach: Luboslav Penev
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup USA 1994 (Fourth place)
Former stars: Hristo Stoichkov, Luboslav Penev, Dimitar Berbatov