Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 64-Hristo Stoichkov and the Mighty Bulgarians (1994)

At USA 94 Bulgaria (who had undone France at the last minute to qualify earlier in this countdown) surprised many by knocking out the defending champions Germany and making it to the semi-finals. They featured top players like their captain and top line goalkeeper Borislav Mikhailov, the bald and slightly unhinged Yordan Letchkov and the unforgettable Trifon Ivanov who looked so rough there were rumours he had been raised by a pack of wolves on the outskirts of Sofia.

There were many great players in the team but one man who probably wasn’t surprised and probably expecting Bulgaria to take all before them was the irrepressible Hristo Stoichkov. The 28 year old with the killer cross, patience to befriend Romario, talent to miss most training sessions and ability to score from anywhere already had a cult following coming in to the tournament which was more than harnessed by his efforts in the US.

He had again scored more than 15 goals for Barcelona in the season before USA 94 and was at his peak coming in to the tournament even with his smoking habit and unbelievably short temper. In his first season at Barca he had in fact been suspended for two months after stomping on a ref’s foot during a heated argument but he was still part of four consecutive league titles and a European Cup victory at Wembley.

After being humiliated by the brilliant Nigeria in their first match Bulgaria returned fire on to the awful Greek side 4-0 in the next match with two goals from Stoichkov. He then scored again in a 2-0 win over the now Maradona-less Argentina to get second spot in the group and confirm their progress in to the second round and the unknown along with Stoichkov and his casual job and nonplussed attitude whenever he scored.

It was in the knockout stages that Stoichkov really shone as a match winner with the goal against Mexico in the 1-1 draw which they eventually won on penalties in front of what was virtually a Mexican home crowd. In the quarter finals was where Bulgaria would truly shock the world knocking out the defending champions Germany 2-1 at Giants Stadium. In the oppressive heat the game seemed to be going to script with the out of form but still feared Germans scoring in the first half from the spot.

In the second half though the Bulgarians rallied and huffed and puffed as Germany stoically defended. Then with 15 minutes to go Stoichkov was brought down some 35 yards from goal. A little too far for a direct shot from the free kick? Not for Hristo with his curling free kick rocking past the German keeper and in to the net. 1-1 and extra looking a possibility.

http://www.expertfootball.com/history/dream/bul94_shot_1b.jpg

The possibility of extra time wouldn’t come to reality though. The Bulgarians now had their tails up as the Germans chased shadows. A fantastic ball two minutes after the equaliser saw Yankov released down the right with his cross pinpoint to Letchkov to who sent a unbelievably powerful header past the keeper from the edge of the box, a very rare feat.

Bulgaria was ahead and approaching full time. Germany’s overeliability on their star striker Jurgen Klinsmann (who had scored 4 of their 6 goals in the tournament) had come back to haunt them with the Tottenham bound star muzzled for the whole game. Germany had nothing. Bulgaria only had to defend and outlasted the Germans and send the mighty champions and finalists of the past three finals out.

In the semi-finals they came up against a Baggio-inspired Italian side and even Stoichkov’s goal wasn’t enough to outweigh a Baggio double and the Bulgarians were out 2-1. That loss that was compounded with a 4-0 loss to Sweden in the third place play off with the team exhausted from their slash and burn campaign. Stoichkov’s six goals tied with Oleg Salenko and he shared the golden boot for the tournament that earned him European footballer of the year for 1994, not a bad effort for a work-shy nut-job.

It was a wonderful achievement by the Bulgarians but this tournament also showed everything that was great about Stoichkov. His burst of pace (against Mexico), his unbelievable ability with dead balls (against Germany and Greece) and his short temper (every game) was something to not be forgotten quickly. He would go on to play in Euro 96 and France 98 but by 1998 he was well on his way to retirement and was good for a bit of comic relief. Following his time in Europe we went to the MLS for a spell and also coached which was both funny as it was pathetic.

In these days of more and more media safe players talking in clichés and acting normal on the pitch we see less and less Stoichkovs every four years but we can look back and see the efforts of this rough diamond and his countrymen as a memorable moment in the World Cup.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Hi Dennis

    I was in the US for this tournament, and Stoichkov was the name on everyone’s lips.

    Managed to jag a ticket to the Sweden v Romania quarter final which was uneventful until deep into the second half. The penalty shoot out and subsequent party with the Swedes made the experience.

    Thanks for these stories and keep up the good work.

    Cheers

    RTB

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