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Ten games, not a single victory, historic anti-records that led to a huge scandal – this is how the year of the national football team can be briefly described. The team finished Euro 2024 qualifiers with two draws against group leaders Hungary and Serbia, which came amid protests against the leadership of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) and the team’s performance itself being put on the back burner.
And while the fans have already gotten used to the poor results of the national team, at the beginning of the year the requests from the BFS were for something completely different. Already after the draw in 2022, the football union indicated the goal of qualifying for a major championship.
When Bulgaria was placed in a group with Serbia, Hungary, Montenegro and Lithuania, the BFS gave a clear goal to the team and the then coach Mladen Krastaic – qualifying for the European Championship.
“Our group is equal, we respect all opponents, but personally I am convinced of our team’s capabilities and I expect from Mladen Krastaic and his players spirit, will, quality football and results that will return Bulgaria to the finals of a major championship,” said the president of BFS Borislav Mihailov.
Borislav Mihailov: I expect results that will return Bulgaria to a major championship
The technical director of BFS, Georgi Ivanov-Gonzo, also told “Sportal” that the goal is to qualify for the European championship: “Our group is not one of the most difficult, Bulgaria is preparing to qualify for the European championship, there is nothing to talk about.”
Krastaich himself said in September 2022 that Bulgaria should have a ready team in March 2023.
Already after the first matches in the qualifiers for Euro 2024, it was quickly seen that the goals were seriously out of line with the real level of the team. Bulgaria started the qualifiers with a loss to Montenegro in a match they could have won. A rout by Hungary in Budapest followed in a match that could have been lost by more.
The national team failed to win and ended up drawing with the underdogs Lithuania, despite being down a man more than 17 minutes into the match. A better match with Serbia in Razgrad followed, in which the team dropped the victory in overtime.
However, after that came a series of four consecutive losses, two of which were in the qualifiers, with the bottom undoubtedly being the defeat by Lithuania in Sofia, which led to the calls for the protest against BFS on social networks, as well as to the protests against the heads of the football union in match times of teams in the First League. The team also lost two controls – against Iran and Albania, and this led to the dismissal of Krstaich. Before leaving, the Serbian pointed to the lack of enough Bulgarian players in the Bulgarian championship and stated that if this continues, the championship should be closed.
Krastaich: If Bulgarians don’t play in the Bulgarian championship, it’s better to close it
BFS have replaced Krstaich with Ilian Iliev and the new coach has said he wants to change the mindset of the team and under his leadership Bulgaria have done well in their last two games against group leaders Hungary and Serbia and that gives some hope for better results in the future. Iliev changed the game for the team, but it should be noted that the opponents in both games only needed a point to secure Euro 2024 qualification.
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“Against the first and second in the group we showed that we are not that far apart from those white spots that we showed in the first 15 minutes against Hungary and the first 15 minutes here. Those things have to be removed because in some games we can they cost much more,” said Iliev after the match with Serbia.
In three qualifying matches, the team conceded goals late in overtime that cost them points. Serbia equalized in Razgrad in the 96th minute, Montenegro won in Podgorica, also in the 96th, and Hungary left Sofia with a point after an own goal in extra time.
The balance sheet
The national team is sending off its first calendar year without a win since 1964. For the first time since the qualifiers for the world and European championships were in groups with more teams, Bulgaria finished without a win. The last time the team did not win a match was in the World Cup qualifiers in 1954, when the team had one draw in a total of 4 matches against Romania and Czechoslovakia.
The winless streak now totals 11 matches, as the team ended in a draw with Luxembourg in the last match of 2022. The last success of Bulgaria is from November 16, 2022 – the victory against Cyprus in control.
After the match with Serbia, technical director Georgi Ivanov stated that the BFS overestimated the team, but said that during the year good foundations were laid for the next cycle.
“When the draw was made, we all thought that Serbia and Hungary were not France and Spain, but they still have players who are at their level. We overestimated our team under Krastaic. We all wanted to qualify. We have laid a foundation on which the new coach to upgrade. The potential of the players is greater than the points we have,” commented Ivanov after the match with Serbia.
For the national team, months of controls lie ahead, and the next official matches will be in the League of Nations in September 2024.