- Bulgaria set to face France in a Group A qualifier for Russia 2018
- Their meeting will evoke memories of Bulgaria's famous victory in 1993
As in 1993, Bulgaria will tackle Les Bleus with a Kostadinov in their ranks*
Nothing sets Bulgarian pulses racing more than the dream of a return to the glory days. The national side have not graced the FIFA World Cup™ stage in two decades, but memories of a more successful time will surely be revived on Saturday.
With Bulgaria set to meet France in one of their last qualifiers for Russia 2018, thoughts will turn to their trip to the 1998 finals on French soil – and, above all, their stunning qualification for USA 1994 at the expense of Les Bleus.
Though many years have passed, Didier Deschamps's men ought to take nothing for granted this weekend. Bulgaria can still clinch a play-off spot and will be desperate to prevail, bolstered by their record of not having lost at home to France since 1932. And while the suspension of key player Ivelin Popov is a blow, the hosts possess talented performers capable of giving the French a fright – not least a certain Kostadinov in midfield.
People can believe in ghosts if they want. But seriously, I'm not frightened to come up against another Kostadinov
The name alone is enough to turn France fans pale. Former Bulgaria forward Emil Kostadinov is still infamous in France after scoring in the final minute of the last set of qualifiers for USA 1994, crushing the hopes of a side featuring Jean-Pierre Papin, David Ginola and Eric Cantona at the Parc des Princes. Fast-forward 24 years and it is Georgi Kostadinov who could spark a similar ordeal this time around, and not just due to his ominous surname.
"I don't know if my team-mates and I will be able to cause France another nightmare, but we'll do our best to make it happen," the Maccabi Haifa midfielder told FIFA.com. "Either way, we'll be driven by the same desire that motivated our predecessors: namely, our country's honour."
*Why France should beware Georgi Kostadinov …
. *Kostadinov loves playing France. He won his first cap against Les Bleus on 7 October 2016. "That will always be one of the greatest days of my life, despite the scoreline," he said of the 4-1 loss. "To wear the shirt of the national team was the fulfilment of my biggest dream."
. Kostadinov is in form. He has found the net in Bulgaria's last three qualifiers. "I don't like to dwell on my own situation or my statistics," he explained. "Just wearing the Bulgaria shirt makes me prouder than my own performances. And although I scored three goals, we lost two of those games. I'd love to swap those goals for some more points."
. Kostadinov is called Kostadinov. "I can imagine how my name has a certain resonance in France," he said. "In Bulgaria, it's a name that's written in gold in the annals of the game. Emil Kostadinov had an immense career, and it wasn't all about that famous goal at the Parc des Princes."
Why France should beware Bulgaria ...
. Bulgaria also love playing France. In addition to ending France's hopes of reaching USA 1994, Bulgaria denied Les Bleus on the road to Chile 1962. "We believe in ourselves, but France are still one of the best teams in the world," said Kostadinov. "I hope it'll help that we're playing at home, where we've had some good results."
. Bulgaria are unbeaten at home in this campaign. "The results speak for themselves," added Kostadinov. "Playing at home simply makes us stronger. Most notably, we've won against the Netherlands and Sweden, two of the continent's biggest teams."
. *Bulgaria are highly motivated. *"It would be fantastic to qualify," noted the midfielder. "It's been too long since Bulgaria took part in a major tournament. And it would be even more miraculous to do it now, given that our group is very tough with teams of the calibre of Sweden and France." Just like 1993, in fact...