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Season review: Bulgaria

Published: Thursday 5 June 2014, 8.34CET
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad continued their astonishing recent rise, becoming the first club from outside Sofia to win three successive championships and lifting the Bulgarian Cup.
by Stoyan Georgiev
from Sofia
Season review: Bulgaria
Ludogorets enjoyed a superbly successful campaign ©Meridian Match
Published: Thursday 5 June 2014, 8.34CET

Season review: Bulgaria

PFC Ludogorets Razgrad continued their astonishing recent rise, becoming the first club from outside Sofia to win three successive championships and lifting the Bulgarian Cup.

PFC Ludogorets Razgrad rewrote the history books in Bulgaria, becoming the first club from outside Sofia to win three successive championships. They also shone in Europe, turning heads as the first Bulgarian team to reach the UEFA Europa League knockout stages – before ending the season in the best possible way with a second Bulgarian Cup triumph.

Champions: PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
The season did not start well for the title holders as they lost the Bulgarian Super Cup, the first leg of their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round tie and their opening league game in the space of ten days in July. It spelled the end of Ivaylo Petev's tenure, with relative unknown Stoicho Stoev installed at the helm. The Arrigo Sacchi-admirer quickly instilled calmness and confidence, and what followed was a genuine fairy-tale campaign.

Ludogorets overcame ŠK Slovan Bratislava and FK Partizan to reach the UEFA Champions league play-offs, and though FC Basel 1893 proved too strong, the UEFA Europa League was their reward. Slowly but surely they improved on the domestic front too, tussling with PFC Litex Lovech before finally making top spot theirs at the end of March. "Ten months ago, when I arrived at the club, I could not even have dreamed that we would have such a glorious ending," said Stoev.

Cup final: PFC Botev Plovdiv 0-1 PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
In the 63rd and last game of Ludogorets's marathon season, Roman Bezjak's goal just before the hour completed the double in Burgas. Remarkably, it was the Eagles' sixth trophy in three seasons since gaining promotion in 2011 – only PFC Beroe Stara Zagora, winners of the Bulgarian Cup and Super Cup in 2013, preventing a clean sweep.

European places*
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
PFC CSKA Sofia – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
PFC Litex Lovech – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
PFC Botev Plovdiv – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
*subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the Year: Vladislav Stoyanov (PFC Ludogorets Razgrad)
Bezjak, Marcelinho and Svetoslav Dyakov all caught the eye, but Stoyanov was almost untouchable. The goalkeeper was instrumental in Ludogorets' run to the UEFA Europa League last 16 with a clutch of impossible saves – just ask round of 32 opponents SS Lazio. He is also now entrenched as Bulgaria No1. "This season was fantastic for me and the club and I would like to thank all my team-mates for everything," Stoyanov said as he was deservedly named players' player of the year.

One to watch: Simeon Slavchev (PFC Litex Lovech)
The Litex academy is really starting to bear fruit. Last season, playmaker Georgi Milanov earned a move to PFC CSKA Moskva, winning the Russian title this term, and as he departed Slavchev arrived. The 20-year-old scored 14 goals in 34 league games, ended the campaign with the captain's armband and made his senior debut for Bulgaria. His meteoric rise certainly attracted attention, with Sporting Clube de Portugal snapping him up at the end of the season. Who will be next?

Surprise package: PFC CSKA Sofia
The most successful club in Bulgaria are enduring hard times, but under Stoycho Mladenov the Reds overhauled stuttering Litex to finish league runners-up. With limited resources, Mladenov built a competitive side around experienced players like Martin Petrov, Valentin Iliev and Emil Gargorov. Their four league wins out of four against arch-rivals PFC Levski Sofia did not go unnoticed in the capital.

Leading scorer: Wilmar Jordán Gil, PFC Litex Lovech (20)

Relegated: PSFC Chernomorets Burgas, PFC Neftochimic Burgas, PFC Pirin Gotse Delchev, FC Lyubimets 2007

Promoted: PFC Marek Dipnitsa*, PFC Haskovo 2009*

*Subject to confirmation by the Bulgarian Football Union

Number: 1914
Levski celebrated their 100th birthday on 24 May, but it proved an anniversary to forget. Eerily, the outfit established in 1914 ended the season with 19 wins and a club record 14 defeats.

Quote
"CSKA are my club. They are mine, because I belong to them."
CSKA Sofia coach Stoycho Mladenov is philosophical about his love affair with the club.

Last updated: 05/06/14 9.20CET

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