Friday, August 2, 2013

Bulgaria In the Champions League

In what has become an annual Heath Post tradition, we are checking in on the progress of Bulgaria's champion in the UEFA Champions' League -- the most prestigious club soccer tournament in the world.

As we've previously explained, every country in Europe gets to send at least one team to the Champions' League.  But, like so many things in Europe, this surface equality masks a deeper inequality.  A lot of the big clubs in countries like England and Spain automatically qualify for the 32 slots in the group stages.  But champions from the smaller countries -- like Bulgaria -- have to fight their way through various qualifying rounds in hopes of reaching the group stages.

This year's Bulgarian entry is PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.  (The PFC stands for "Professional Football Club.")  Razgrad is a town of about 33,000 people in the northeast corner of Bulgaria.  It's part of the Ludogorie region (thus "Ludogorets") of Northeast Bulgaria.  The name means "region of wild forests," but there's also a lot of farmland.  It's apparently a great place to see butterflies.

Anyway, last year Ludogorets Razgrad went to the Champions League, but were robbed in their qualifying round match against Dinamo Zagreb.  Now they're back.

They started in the Second Qualifying Round with a match against Slovan Bratislava, the champions of Slovakia.  In the first leg, played in Bratislava on July 17, the Slovaks got two late goals to take a 2-1 lead.  Then, three days later, Ludogorets lost their first game of the Bulgarian season to Lyubimets 2007, a new team that represents a town with less than 8,000 people.

At this point -- one game into the domestic season, and on the verge of elimination from the Champions' League -- LUDOGORETS FIRED THEIR COACH!  Yes, Ivaylo Petev -- the very man who had taken them to back-to-back Bulgarian League titles -- GONE!  (It's anecdotes like this that make me think we should turn the Heath Post into a blog about Bulgarian soccer.)

With no head coach, Ludogorets appointed Petev's assistant, Georgi Dermendzhiev, as an interim coach.  But he only lasted a day.  On July 22 (the Monday after their defeat on Saturday), Ludogorets gave the job to Stoycho Stoev, who had previously coached some smaller clubs in Bulgaria and the national junior team.  Ludogorets said that a lot of foreigners wanted the job, but they "decided to rely on a Bulgarian once again."

So after getting their new coach on July 22, Ludogorets faced a do-or-die showdown with Slovan Bratislava on July 24.  BUT THEY CAME THROUGH!  Inspired by a big home crowd, and playing much better than they had in their two prior matches, Ludogorets pounded Slovan Bratislava 3-0 to win the two-leg match by an aggregate score of 4-2.  You can see the highlights, accompanied by some very intense heavy metal music, here.  Actually, you can see the whole first half here.

And so, for the first time in club history, Ludogorets was in the Third Qualifying Round.  Their opponent is the champion of Serbia, FK Partizan of Belgrade.  Partizan is a big-time power in this part of Europe -- they've won 25 national championships.

The first leg of the Ludogorets/Partizan match took place in Razgrad on July 31.  There was no score at the half, but Partizan opened the scoring with a goal early in the second half.  Once again, however, Ludogorets fought back -- scoring goals in the 54th and 65th minutes to come away with a 2-1 victory.  But, of course, the match isn't over.  Ludogorets travels to Partizan on August 6th for the second leg.  If they survive that match, Ludogorets will be only one round away from the group stages.

34 comments:

  1. This was an outstanding report. I love this HP tradition.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Maybe we could get a grant to get Katerina Stoykova-Klemer to do a regular "Oh, Bulgaria" post for the HP.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Replies
    1. If I didn't have to make a deadline or deliver anything safely there once I arrived, there are not that many things in this world that I'd rather do today than drive from Razgrad to Belgrade. (But driving from Hickman to Louisa would be one of them.)

      Delete
  4. Maybe PFC Ludogorets went to Belgrade on a big bus yesterday, and maybe there were scenes like this one from 1985 in Pleven in that town and other like it along the route between Razgrad and Belgrade.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how the other Bulgarians feel about Ludogorets. Do the other Bulgarians act like SEC fans, and root for Ludogorets to get it done? Or do they all hate Ludogorets, and hope that they lose?

      My guess is that the Bulgarians are all pulling for Ludogorets. In the first place, it just seems like that sort of country. In the second place, I'm sure there's a heated rivalry between Bulgaria and Serbia. And in the third place, Ludogorets seems to really play the "we're Bulgarians" card.

      Delete
  5. I'm very nervous about this game. It's just hard to see Ludogorets getting a good result on the road. The officiating alone will be a huge obstacle to overcome.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Replies
    1. Drag: "You don't have permission to access / tv7.php on this server."

      Delete
  7. IrkTheBookie ‏@IrkTheBookie
    Happily, Ludogorets are still looking for that goal that they don't need. I'm not at all confident that they'll get it, though.
    3:07 PM - 6 Aug 13

    Ed ‏@Gibbe84 5m
    Watching #Partizan vs #Ludogorets is about as enjoyable as rubbing sandpaper on a wound, which of course was expected & good for our bet.
    3:03 PM - 6 Aug 13

    ReplyDelete
  8. The commentators are speaking in Bulgarian, so I just have to click over to my browser with the stream whenever I hear the tempo and tenor of their voice picking up. The voices got faster and higher a few seconds ago, and I got over to that browser quick enough to see one Partizan dude pass toward another Partizan dude in front of the Ludogorets goal--only to have the ball kicked away by a sliding Ludogorets defender.

    "Partizan is beginning to despair," Tweeted @FuEsDes_Blog in Spanish, and I think I agree with that commentary.

    PAR 0 - 0 LDG
    74:00 ...

    ReplyDelete
  9. The Bulgarian commentators on the TV7 live stream have now entered into a constant, loud staccato as Partizan has attempted at least three point-blank shots on goal in the last few moments. Meanwhile, the Belgrade home crowd is hissing its disapproval as several Partizan players in the last few moments have gone with apparently brutal injuries.

    PAR 0 - 0 LDG
    79:00 ...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Professional soccer matches like this one, by the way, last for 90 minutes, plus some jive amount of injury time.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The TV7 guys are going nuts in a happy way. Some Partizan dude just got a "red card" after leveling some Ludogorets dude on a runout toward the goal.

    PAR 0 - 0 LDG
    86:00 ...

    ReplyDelete
  12. The TV7 guys are going crazy, of course. And they just flashed to a tiny contingent of madly celebrating fans who made the long trip over on Route 105, and several are waving Bulgarian flags. Very exciting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Serbian Football ‏@SerbianFooty
      Nikola Gulan gets a red card, Ludogorets scores a penalty and Partizan is knocked out of Champions League qualifying
      3:35 PM - 6 Aug 13

      Vassie™ ‏@viivanova 4m
      #BUL so close to the @ChampionsLeague playoffssssss don't think my stomach can take the pressure... #Ludogorets
      3:35 PM - 6 Aug 13

      Delete
  13. The Belgrade home boys are doing some kind of organized chant/cheer thing, but the decibel level is way, way down from when it was still 0-0 a few minutes ago.

    ReplyDelete
  14. And now that the action is over and the commentators can catch their breath, TV7 cuts to a commercial for itself that shows a bunch of dogs chasing each other. Hooray for TV7! Hooray for PFC Ludogrets! Hooray for Bulgaria! And, as always, the Internet is amazing!

    ReplyDelete