Bulgarian great Hristo Stoitchkov fancies holders France to retain their European crown at UEFA EURO 2004™.
'Experience and quality'
Stoitchkov, whose goals took Bulgaria to the 1994 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, believes France "have the experience and quality" to win in Portugal, despite not having found their best form in the finals.
"Now that strong football nations like Italy and Spain are out, I think France have a very good chance of retaining the title," Stoitchkov told euro2004.com. "The backbone of their team has been playing together for the last four to six years. They have the experience and the quality to win again."
However, Stoitchkov added that Jacques Santini's side would not necessarily find it easy in their quarter-final against Greece on Friday. "Greece have surprised me a lot. Otto Rehhagel is doing a great job. They will make France sweat for a place in the semi-finals."
Impressed with England
Stoitchkov, now 38, has been following Bulgaria's fortunes here in Portugal. Besides France, he has also been impressed by the hosts and England, who meet tomorrow in the first quarter-final in Lisbon. "The host nation Portugal are also very strong and I am really impressed with England. I think they are potential winners," he said.
Bulgaria's squad flew back to Sofia today having lost all three group matches against Sweden, Denmark and Italy. Yet Stoitchkov insists the experience of playing at EURO 2004™ will serve them well. "I think some of the players were to some extent frightened," he said.
"That's normal because they lack experience at major tournaments. I do not blame them. No one should blame them. Now they've had the feeling of being at a [UEFA] European Championship, they can only benefit from that in the future."
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