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Coach Stanimir Stoilov is eager for PFC Levski Sofia not to be a Group A "punch bag" as they start their maiden UEFA Champions League campaign at FC Barcelona.
The 39-year-old made history as Levski became the first Bulgarian team to qualify for the group stage, and despite the draw having paired his inexperienced side with Chelsea FC and Werder Bremen as well as the European champions, Stoilov is hoping Levski can make a positive start.
"I don't want Levski to be the group punch-bag - the match against Barcelona should be like a fight between two boxers," he told uefa.com. "Everyone knows about Barcelona - I have watched several of their games and I am still looking for weaknesses but it is impossible to find any. We cannot go out to the Camp Nou and try to outplay them. We must have a different approach and be clever and patient. If we get something from the game, then it will be OK. There is no pressure on us at all and I am sure the team will give their best."
The Haskovo-born coach does not have the European pedigree of his Group A peers, Frank Rijkaard, José Mourinho and Thomas Schaaf, but he refuses to be overawed. "I respect them all, but I am not afraid," he said. "This will be a real experience for me to see how far we can go."
A former Levski player, Stoilov was appointed as coach in June 2004 and has overseen a tremendous spell, including last season's domestic title and a run to the 2005/06 UEFA Cup quarter-finals, although his tenure began with a painful 2004/05 UEFA Cup first round defeat against Belgian side KSK Beveren.
"When I returned to Levski as coach, I had a clear vision of what to do and how do it," he said. "I never doubted we would succeed. The Beveren defeat was a huge blow, but we kept on working hard. The board was behind me all the time and that also gave me a lot of confidence.
"After my first season several players left and others arrived but the most important thing was to keep the system going and we improved a lot," he added. "Every player knows what is required of him. Everyone works for each other and gives their best. We don't have big stars, but we have a team and that's why we have done so well."
Overcoming the likes of AJ Auxerre, Olympique de Marseille and Udinese Calcio in last season's UEFA Cup were sure signs that Stoilov's work was bearing fruit. "We not only won at home against those sides, we also outplayed them," said Stoilov. "Such performances give you a lot of confidence. The players started to believe in themselves."
It may take more than self-belief to outshine Barcelona tonight, but Stoilov is convinced the good example set to his younger players by the experienced Daniel Borimirov and Cédric Bardon will see his young fighters punch above their weight. "They are real professionals and lead by example," he said. "The youngster have improved so much because of them. Now, all of us will experience something special and I am sure we will not disappoint."
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