Simona Petkova is one of few pro female footballers from Bulgaria
She believes they can upset the odds in Australia/New Zealand 2023 qualifying
Petkova discusses the "football mania" in the country during USA 1994
UEFA's preliminary draw for the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ will take place on 30 April. It will feature 51 teams, including Bulgaria, who are 78th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's Ranking and will be making their return to the preliminary event.
"This draw is unlikely to be kind to us, with every fixture likely to be a real challenge," Bulgaria attacking midfielder Simona Petkova told FIFA.com. "We have to focus on ourselves, not on our opponents.
"But I'm obviously delighted to be able to participate in these qualifiers again. This is the perfect opportunity to show our potential and qualities. It's going to take a lot of work, but it'll create a lot of joy too."
Petkova certainly knows what she's talking about. Born in 1993, exactly two-and-a-half months before the legendary 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ between France and Bulgaria.
"That’s one of the great moments in our footballing history," she said. "Emil Kostadinov's brace allowed us to secure our ticket to the USA and delight an entire country. It was the pinnacle of Bulgarian football. He and Hristo Stoichkov allowed our people to experience moments of football mania."
Petkova intends to use her extensive experience acquired at club level with Watford in England, Pink Bari and Empoli in Italy, and FC Lugano Femminile in Switzerland to push for a World Cup berth.
"I believe in us! There's always hope," she insisted. "We’re being offered a great opportunity, which we have to seize by working hard to give ourselves the best chance. Bulgarian women's football has come a long way, but it still has a lot of room for improvement. We can spring a surprise."
Petkova personifies this attitude perfectly. Despite only taking up the game at 16, the midfielder has managed, through hard work and perseverance, to reach the top level. This year, aged 27, she signed her first professional contract and is flourishing in Lugano, Switzerland.
"I’m very happy with my life," she said. "Switzerland is a beautiful country and I’m aware of how lucky I am to be able to play abroad. It’s obviously been a factor in my progress at both a personal and professional level."
But there is a fuller version of her journey available, and it is in print form after Petkova told her life story in the book Football Journey, released in 2020.
"I grew up in a poor family without a father," she explained. "It wasn’t exactly a dream upbringing, but I believed in myself and in the possibility of achieving my biggest goals through hard work and conviction.
"We’re not born to be perfect, but to be happy – that's the message I'd like to convey. You have to know what you want and do everything you can to attain it. We need to be bold and courageous and, above all, listen to our hearts."