Bulgaria return to qualifiers after seven-year hiatus
Opening match against Germany on Saturday
"We’ve been waiting for this game for so long"
"Germany, of all teams…" Plenty of coaches will have said that phrase to themselves as they prepare for a qualifier against a side that have never failed to make it through to a FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
For Bulgarian coach Silviya Radoyska however, it is more of a milestone as her team prepares to kick off its campaign for a spot at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ against Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s charges.
"We haven’t played any qualifiers in the last seven years so this is a very important game, and one that we’ve been waiting so long for, because we haven’t had any official matches," Radoyska told FIFA.com. "It will be both an honour and a real challenge to take on the third-best team in the world. But we’re also delighted with the fact that we get to compare ourselves with one of the best teams around."
Seven years is a long time – and not just in women’s football. The last time that Bulgaria were on the international stage was in qualifying for Canada 2015, when they finished with a demoralising record of one draw, nine defeats and a total of 62 goals conceded. Only North Macedonia had a worse goal difference.
Since then, they have played just one or two friendlies a year – nowhere near enough for Radoyska, who was Bulgarian captain for 15 years as a player. It is critical for the development of women’s football in the country that the international team return to qualifying competition.
"I’ve been coach of the full international team for a while now, having looked after the U-19s for 13 years, first as assistant and then for eight years as head coach,” the 35-year-old explained. “I wanted to take the next step in my coaching career and now I can learn from better teams and better coaches."
"It will be really good both for me and for the players to face these sides. They will be able to learn how to improve their skills, particularly when we come up against Germany and Portugal. We can learn from their training style and their formation and analyse their matches. As a coach, I can learn more about women’s football, which is growing so fast all around the world at the moment. I don’t think that we’re any worse than the teams from Serbia, Israel and Turkey. We’ll try to pick up results against them and to be a competitive side."
Picking up results will also be absolutely crucial to the future of women’s football in Bulgaria, as it will create more awareness around this aspect of the sport and make it a more interesting prospect across the board, and not just for girls and young women.
"I’m really happy that FIFA and UEFA are supporting women’s football,” added Radoyska, who took part in the inaugural FIFA coach mentorship programme. “The most important thing for Bulgaria is for the men’s team to recognise the fact that there needs to be a women’s team and to try to support them. When I was in Italy, I saw how the best men’s teams also have women’s teams. They organise everything for them – and not just at club level, at international level too."
"It’s very important for us to increase the number of girls playing football. They need to understand that it’s not just a sport for boys. And I also hope that we get to have more and better coaches in women’s football. That way, we’ll have better results with the U-17s and U-19s and hopefully – in the next three to four years – with the full international team as well."
Images courtesy of the Bulgarian Football Union.