Unbeaten after four games and second in Group B, above the Czech Republic and Denmark, Bulgaria have made an unexpectedly bright start to FIFA World Cup qualifying. Key to their progress has been 20-year-old midfielder Georgi Milanov, a player injecting genuine class into a gritty, determined side.
All this will have come as no surprise to local football watchers, given that Georgi Milanov – born in Levski, northern Bulgaria, five minutes after twin brother Iliya – has been the brightest rising star in the domestic firmament for some time. The twins joined the PFC Litex Lovech academy aged ten and have been edging their way into the national consciousness ever since. Georgi made his Litex debut in August 2009 under Stanimir Stoilov, and with his eye-catching skills, control and vision, is now at the heart of the national team.
Fortune has smiled on both brothers, in fact, because at Litex they have had the chance to work alongside two of Bulgaria's most celebrated players – current coach Hristo Stoichkov and previous boss Luboslav Penev, now in charge of the national side. "They are both big personalities and great players," said Georgi Milanov. "I learn from them every single day, not only about football but also about life. They are always helping me develop as a player and as a person. Their advice is priceless."
With two Bulgarian A League titles already to his name at Litex, Georgi Milanov is especially enjoying the challenge of competing at a different level with his country. He showed preternatural poise in Bugaria's first qualifier, the 2-2 home draw with Italy in September, in which he scored the equaliser. "The atmosphere inside the team is fantastic," he said. "The mood is very positive. We are united as a squad and it is great to work under a coach like Luboslav Penev."
It perhaps helps that Georgi and Iliya are playing together internationally too. The eight-cap Georgi made his debut in October 2011, with the Milanovs turning out together for the first time when defender Iliya took his bow in the 1-1 draw against Denmark in Sofia in October. Curiously, they are one of two pairs of twins in contention for places, along with full-backs Yordan and Veselin Minev, based with PFC Ludogorets Razdgrad and Antalyaspor respectively
"Of course it is a special feeling to play together with my brother in the national team," said Georgi Milanov. "We have been together all our lives. We grew up together, we have played football together every single day. When we were children, our dream was to play for Litex and the national side. Maybe one day we'll separate. But let's hope we can join top European clubs together."
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