The last few years have been really disappointing for Bulgarian football fans as none of our teams passed the first round of the UEFA cup and the Champions League. Sometimes it was a matter of luck, sometimes it was a matter of horrible play but the end result was the same year after year - Bulgarian participation ended very early.
Yesterday everything changed - 3 out of 4 Bulgarian teams made it to the UEFA groups after 3 1:0 epic wins. It could have been four wins, but Lokomotiv Plovdiv lost 2:1 to Bolton. The English team was trailing the whole game 1:0 but a Loko player scored in his own goal in the 80th minute and all dreams for qualifying vanished.
Nonetheless, the other 3 teams had a great night and managed to keep their precious one goal advantage.
After being eliminated from the Champions League qualifications from reigning European Club Champion Liverpool, CSKA Sofia had to play Bayer Leverkusen from Germany. The first game finished at a surprising 1:0 for CSKA and that gave our team a comfortable lead for the re-match. Everybody was keeping fingers crossed that we will keep the lead but after a great game and very good football, CSKA won the second game as well - 1:0.
Levski gave fans a second reason to celebrate - after two very tough games with French Auxerre, Levski qualified for the groups after 1:0 in the second game. Even though the teams finished 2:2 on aggregate, the goal in France put Levski at an advantage.
By far the best game of the night was the last one - Bulgarian Litex facing Belgian Genk. The first game finished at 2:2 in Bulgaria and Litex had to win at any cost to advance to the groups. After a 90 minute frenzy Litex triumphed - a 1:0 win after incredible football and some great saves by goalie Vutov. Litex could have scored several goals more, but it's also true that our team had a lot of luck in the 85th minute when the Belgian team hit the post and the ball went alongside the goal line. I am very happy for Litex as they have been demonstrating great football - very fast, with good combinations, without unnecessary dribble, with precise passes and uncommon and diverse combinations... Coach Liupko Petrovich has done great in creating a strong team without any start in it. It just shows that a great team need to have a lot of stars - you just need a lot of team spirit, a lot of practice and good teamwork.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that our teams will do well in the groups. In any case the experience of playing some of the strongest teams in Europe will inevitably improve the game of Bulgarian clubs. All 3 teams have a lot of potential but they don't have practice against strong competitors and it's games against strong teams (and losses) that you learn from the most.