There is one particular moment in history known to every Bulgarian football fan.
With 12 minutes left on the clock in the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals, Iordan Letchkov throws himself in front of Germany midfielder Thomas Hassler to meet a cross from the right, burying a diving header past goalkeeper Bodo Illgner into the top left corner. His goal put the eastern European side 2-1 up and ultimately knocked defending world champions Germany out of the tournament.
In reaching the semi-finals for the first and only time, Bulgaria, who boasted the world-class gifts of Hristo Stoichkov as well as several other talented players, climbed to previously unknown heights in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking by peaking at eighth in 1995
The current team may be a long way from that, but over the last two years they have taken huge strides forward. Bulgaria won four of their eight games in 2016, with a 1-0 friendly win away to eventual European champions Portugal in March 2016 causing something of a sensation.
However, Bulgaria did not get off to an ideal start in 2018 World Cup qualifying. They were handed an admittedly tricky draw in Group A and left to jostle with Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Belarus and Luxembourg for an automatic qualifying place or a potential play-off spot as group runners-up.
After Ivaylo Petev left his role as national team head coach to take over at Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, the president of the Bulgarian FA, Borislav Mikhailov – captain of that legendary 1994 side – called on the man who was the pillar of that team’s backline as sweeper: Petar Hubchev. He has held the reins since October 2016, having previously been assistant national team coach over a decade ago.