As they gear up to face PFC CSKA Sofia in the Bulgarian Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday, Ilian Iliev told UEFA.com that PFC Beroe Stara Zagora are thriving after being permitted to "focus completely on our job on the field", unburdened by financial worries.
Champions in 1986, Beroe have beaten the likes of Juventus, Athletic Club and Fenerbahçe SK in UEFA competition, but the last couple of decades have not been so glamorous. Things are on the up. Having won promotion last season, they have been on song, beating the league's top two – PFC Litex Lovech and PFC Lokomotiv Sofia – at home and overcoming titleholders PFC Levski Sofia away.
Eighth in the 16-team standings, they now have a decent chance of Bulgarian Cup success provided they can beat CSKA, with Litex, Loko and Levski out of the running. "We have a solid home record this season and we believe we can get over this hurdle," Iliev told UEFA.com.
Iliev has already overcome some sizeable obstacles following his side's relegation in 2008. "I promised to get them back among the best," he said. "It was very difficult last season because everyone played defensively against us. It's much easier in the A PFG because teams are more open. Times are hard because of the financial crisis, but we are safe for the reminder of the season and can completely focus on our job on the field. The pressure is off us and we are doing well."
One of Bulgaria's top playmakers in the 1990s, the 41-year-old Iliev played at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, won Bulgarian Cups with Levski in 1991/92 and 1993/94 and played abroad with Altay GK, SL Benfica, Bursaspor, AEK Athens FC, CS Marítimo and SC Salgueiros. He feels travel – and exposure to good coaches – helped broaden his mind.
"I played under some great coaches, like Dinko Dermendzhiev, Ivan Vutov and Georgi Vasilev at Levski: Vasilev was one of the main reasons I succeeded as a player," he said. "At Benfica I played under Artur Jorge and Paulo Autuori. They were fantastic coaches; Autuori because of his relations with the players and the way he managed the team while Jorge was a great tactician.
"Now at Beroe, I want the team to play good attacking football," he added. "We rely on speedy wide men like Iskren Pisarov and Doncho Atanasov.
I want the team to keep the ball well and stay solid in defence. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. We only have Bulgarian players and I am trying to give them a positive outlook. We're doing well, but there is always a chance we can have a bad spell. That's why I want to keep the team thinking positively, even after defeats."
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