One of the great rivalries in Bulgarian football will be revived on Thursday when Hristo Stoichkov renews acquaintances with PFC Levski Sofia.
The former PFC CSKA Sofia striker encounters Levski in his role as coach of A League champions PFC Litex Lovech, where he took charge in January. When Stoichkov last faced the Blues, a 2-2 draw with CSKA in April 1990, his place in the fans' affections had long since been secured thanks partly to his four-goal haul against Levski the previous October.
The former Parma FC striker also scored the goal which won CSKA the title in May 1987, one of three league championships and four Bulgarian Cups he lifted in one of the most successful periods in the Army Men's history. Eleven years later, shortly after leaving FC Barcelona for the second time, Stoichkov was an unused substitute as CSKA lost 5-0 to Levski in the cup final.
On Thursday, however, he can help improve fifth-placed Litex's chances of retaining the title while indirectly doing a favour for his former club, who are four points clear of PFC Ludogorets Razgrad and Levski – both of whom have a game in hand – at the summit.
"The game against Levski as like all others," said Stoichkov, trying to play down its significance among the fans and media. "All the players should be totally focused and must give their best. Such games are won by total commitment and discipline, by total physical exertion and tactical awareness. I believe my players will do exactly that."
Levski, meanwhile, will have a new face in the dugout after fans' favourite Georgi 'Gonzo' Ivanov was reinstalled as coach on Monday following Nikolay Kostov's resignation. Ivanov, who is also sporting director, started the season in charge before making way for Kostov in November. His predecessor started well, winning his first seven league games, but a cup loss to PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936 and a shock home league defeat by PFC Minior Pernik last weekend prompted his departure.
"I know it will not be easy," said Ivanov, who will act as interim coach until a permanent appointment is made on 24 April. "I'm used to pressure. When Levski lose there is always pressure, but I can't hide. It was much easier to reject being coach again, but I have never run away from problems and for Levski I'm ready for everything."
If a trip to Litex was not testing enough, things do not get any easier for Ivanov – on Monday his side welcomre second-placed Ludogorets in another game likely to influence the destination of the title.
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