Although not favourites, Bulgaria were no doubt in the mix for progressing from Group 1 of the 1990 World Cup qualification. Bulgaria had last time qualified for the World Cup in 1986, when they had been eliminated in the 1/8 finals against hosts Mexico. Although maybe a bit underwhelming in the tournament itself, they had been very solid in the qualifers that time around, and would again be a feared opponent.
Also the qualification campaign for the 1988 Euros under Hristo Mladenov had been decent, when they only were denied a place in the Euros by a late goal in the last match. They then finished just behind the Republic of Ireland, ahead of nations like Belgium and Scotland. Despite this respectable effort, Mladenov resigned as manager and left the managerial position open for the 1990 qualification.
Boris Angelov was appointed as his successor in early 1988. Angelov had been head coach for the Bulgarian U16 and U19 teams since 1983, and was now promoted by the Bulgarian FA to take over the reins of the senior national team. Angelov did otherwise not have a lot of experience as a manager, so this was perhaps a small gamble. But his start as a manager for Bulgaria A was in fact very impressive. During his first months in the position, spring 1988, he led the team to a win against Czechoslovakia, a draw against East Germany and a famous win against the imment European champions Netherlands. If there were any initial doubts about Angelov, they would probably be gone by now.
Before the campaign for Italia’90 kicked off, a series of friendlies were played. Bulgaria did not only have a new manager, but a few players who weren’t well proven on the international stage, so these friendlies would have done the team well.
04.08.1988. Finland 1-1 Bulgaria
Goal: Europaeus (own goal)
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov – Dochev (Kiryakov 67), Rakov, Iliev (c), Vasev – Sadakov, Ivanov, Yordanov – Iskrenov (Pashev h-t), Penev (Kirov 67), Stoichkov (Aleksandrov h-t)
Bulgaria started their three match tour of the Nordic countries with a draw that suited the performance. They appeared slow early on, struggling to seize the initiative, but would dominate the hosts from the midway point of the first half until the break. They were slightly the better side also after the break, but had made the switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 just prior to taking the lead through an own goal, something which would see them on the back foot for the rest of the game. They could have few complaints about Finland claiming a draw after notching an equalizer shortly after Bulgaria’s goal.
07.08.1988. Iceland 2-3 Bulgaria
Goals: Yordanov, Penev, Aleksandrov
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov – Dochev (Kiryakov h-t), Rakov, Iliev (c), Vasev – Sadakov, Ivanov (Kirov h-t), Yordanov – Iskrenov (Pashev h-t), Penev, Stoichkov (Aleksandrov 87)
Bulgaria were unchanged for their second match of the tour of the Nordics. The match was played at a wind-swept Laugardalsvöllur, and the home side would go into an early two goal lead, the second goal unfortunately guided into his own net by Ivanov. Midfield maestro Yordanov would get Bulgaria a goal back before half time, and in the second half their almost relentless pressure told. Penev scored the equalizer with a fine effort from the edge of the area, before three substitutes combined to seal the win as Kirov played Kiryakov down the wing for him to cross to the far post, where Aleksandrov headed home.
09.08.1988. Norway 1-1 Bulgaria
Line-up: Valov – Nikolov, Rakov, Iliev (c), Kiryakov – Sadakov, Yordanov, Kirov (Ivanov h-t) – Iskrenov (Stoichkov 18), Penev (Aleksandrov 60), Pashev (Vasev 77)
24.08.1988. Poland 3-2 Bulgaria
Goals: Stoichkov, Penev
Line-up: Mihaylov (Valov 58) – Kiryakov, Rakov, Ivanov, Dochev, Vasev – Sadakov (c) (Aleksandrov 62), Yordanov, Getov (Kirov 56) – Iskrenov (Stoichkov h-t), Penev
21.09.1988. Bulgaria 2-2 USSR ‘B’
Goals: Penev, Stoichkov
Line-up: Mihaylov (Valov h-t) – Kiryakov, Dimitrov (Simeonov 24), Iliev, Kochev – Sadakov, Ivanov (Rakov h-t), Yordanov (Kirov h-t) – Pashev (Aleksandrov 70), Penev, Stoichkov
How about the squad? Which players were in contention? It had only been two years since Bulgaria took part in the 1986 World Cup, but their team already looked quite different. As it turned out, Boris Angelov probably wasn’t sure either which was his best XI and the turnover of players used during the qualification was quite big. The big news this autumn was that Bulgaria would have to do without Nasko Sirakov for their qualifiers. Sirakov wasn’t among Bulgaria’s best performers in the 1986 World Cup, but enjoyed a good qualification for the 1988 Euros. He had however sustained a serious injury briefly after his transfer to Zaragoza, in July 1988, and stayed out of contention for the entire 1988-89 season.
A few of the players that had been regulars in the Euro qualifiers were omitted from the Bulgarian team: left back Petar Petrov and midfielders Plamen Simeonov and Lachezar Tanev. Libero and former captain Georgi Dimitrov might have retired from international football after the failed 1988 qualifiers, although he did play one friendly under Angelov (v USSR reserves). Some new players were introduced with Angelov’s new regime. Particularly defenders: like Trifon Ivanov, Krasimir Bezinski, Pavel Dochev and Zapryan Rakov. Reliable midfielder Ayan Sadakov was still important in the team, as well as libero Nikolay Iliev and goalkeeper Borislav Mihaylov. The two young CFKA strikers Lubo Penev and Hristo Stoichkov had emerged during the 1988 qualifers and now looked certain starters.
19.10.1988. Bulgaria 1-3 Romania
Line-up (4-3-3): Mihaylov (c) – Nikolov, Rakov, Iliev, Vasev (Kiryakov 54) – Sadakov, Yordanov, Getov – Aleksandrov (Kolev 31), Penev, Stoichkov
Romania look the superior side as Bulgaria start their qualifiers with a home loss. Angelov had gone out in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, but needed to make a tactical substitution already after 30 mins, bringing on midfielder Kolev for attacker Alexandrov. This is not a very impressive display by the home side, who mostly had to rely on free-kicks to produce any goal scoring opportunities.
02.11.1988. Denmark 1-1 Bulgaria
Line-up (5-3-2): Valov – Kiryakov, Dochev, Iliev (c), Ivanov, Bezinski – Sadakov, Yordanov (Rakov 86), Kirov – Penev, Stoichkov (Balakov 89)
Heroic, defensive battle secures one point for Bulgaria in Copenhagen. The Bulgarians do not have a lot to offer in the attacking department, but do just enough to draw. Angelov had reverted to 5-3-2 and successfully managed to close off the Danish midfield. The Danes had enough chances to score the winner, but the guests can take encouragement from this performance.
24.12.1988 United Arab Emirates 0-1 Bulgaria
Line-up: Donev – Kiryakov, Dochev, Iliev (c), Bezinski (Ivanov h-t) – Sadakov (Rakov 80), D Mladenov, Kirov (Balakov h-t) – Kostadinov, Penev (Yordanov 75), Stoichkov
21.02.1989. Bulgaria 1-2 Soviet Union
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov – Kiryakov, Dochev, Iliev (c), Bezinski – Sadakov (Todorov 75), Ivanov, Balakov (Yordanov 61) – Kostadinov, Penev, Stoichkov
22.03.1989. Bulgaria 1-2 West Germany
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov (Donev h-t) – Kiryakov (Ivanov 74), Dochev, Iliev (c), Bezinski – Sadakov, Kirov (Todorov 59), Balakov (Metkov 74) – Kostadinov, Penev, Stoichkov
Two losses, although against quality opposition. The most interesting thing with these two fixtures was the inclusion of Emil Kostadinov and Krasimir Balakov in the team. Both players were to be more involved in the qualification in 1989.
26.04.1989. Bulgaria 0-2 Denmark
Line-up (5-3-2): Valov (Donev 54) – Kiryakov, Rakov, Iliev (c), Dochev, Bezinski – Kirov, Getov, Sadakov (Simeonov h-t) – Mihtarski, Stoichkov
Another home loss, this time against a regalvanized Denmark, means that Bulgaria already are out of contention for Italy’90.
In the aftermath of the loss against Denmark, Boris Angelov was sacked. Bulgaria had lost both their home matches so far and were in reality now without chance to qualify for Italia’90. In his place, the Bulgarian Federation appointed two interim managers: Dimitar Penev (CFKA Sredets) and Georgi Vasilev (Etar). These were probably the two most exciting coaches in the Bulgarian A-league at the time.
17.05.1989 Romania 1-0 Bulgaria
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov (Donev h-t) – Dochev, D Mladenov, Ivanov, Vasev – Bakalov, Tinchev, Balakov – Kostadinov, S Mladenov (c), Stoichkov
An improved performance by Bulgaria, who look better away from home.
Shortly after the defeat in Bucharest, and in time for the two final fixtures, the Bulgarian Federation re-appointed Ivan Vutsov as the new manager for the national team. Vutsov had the same position between 1982 and 1986, leading Bulgaria through their impressive qualification for the 1986 World Cup (and the underwhelming performance they delivered in Mexico). It looks like he combined this responsibility with the job as a manager for Slavia Sofia.
23.08.1989. East Germany 1-1 Bulgaria
Line-up: Valov – Ginchev (Georgiev h-t), Dochev, Ivanov, Bankov, Vasev – Petkov (Todorov 85), Yordanov, Balakov – Kostadinov (Mihtarski 59), Stoichkov (Simeonov 76)
20.09.1989. Italy 4-0 Bulgaria
Line-up (4-4-2): Valov – Dimitrov, Iliev, Ivanov, Dochev – Petkov (Simeonov 84), Bankov, Yordanov (Kostadinov h-t), Balakov – Stoichkov (c), Penev
11.10.1989. Bulgaria 4-0 Greece
Goals: Ivanov, Bankov, Iskrenov, Stoichkov
Line-up (4-3-3): Valov – Dimitrov, Ivanov, Bankov, Tinchev – Georgiev, Yordanov (Lechkov 85), Balakov – Kostadinov (Penev 64), Stoichkov (c), Iskrenov
Ill-tempered match with four goals and four red cards as Bulgaria finally get their first win of 1989. The match is played in atrocious conditions on a rapidly deteriorating pitch, and it is the home side that are least affected as they romp to victory with a collection of late goals. The margin of win flatters Bulgaria, but indisciplined visitors deserve what they get. Good games from Yordanov, Stoichkov and Iskrenov, and there’s a debut for Lechkov late on.
15.11.1989. Greece 1-0 Bulgaria
Line-up: Valov – Dimitrov, Dochev (Stoyanov 74), Ivanov, Bankov, Tinchev – Yanchev, Yordanov, Balakov – Iskrenov (Kostadinov 52), Stoichkov
Small crowd sees Greece and Bulgaria end their forgettable qualification campaigns
A disappointing qualification for Bulgaria. This was in fact by far the worst campaign they had had for years, and also compared with the years to come.
But there were also positives to take with them. The campaign saw the introduction of several players from a golden generation who would bring Bulgaria into the success of the 90s. Trifon Ivanov, Krasimir Balakov, Yordan Lechkov, Emil Kostadinov.
Final position: 4 (out of 4)
Total record: 6 1 1 4 6-8 3
Home record: 3 1 0 2 5-5 2
Away record: 3 0 1 2 1-3 1
Number of players used:
Number of players including unused substitutes:
Ever-presents (540 mins):
– game by game
05.05.1990 Brazil 2-1 Bulgaria
Line-up: Valov – Dimitrov (Dochev h-t), Ivanov, Bankov, Vasev (Lechkov 67) – Yanchev, Todorov (Georgiev 62), Yordanov, Balakov – Kostadinov (Mihtarski h-t), Stoichkov (c) (Panchev 86)