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After a demoralising 5-0 defeat by Sweden, the last thing Bulgaria will have wanted is another game against Scandinavian opposition, but Plamen Markov's side travel to Braga knowing they have to take something from their second Group C fixture against Denmark to keep their UEFA EURO 2004™ hopes alive.
Markov and his coaching staff have spent the intervening days rebuilding the shattered confidence of their players following their heaviest defeat since a 6-0 reverse against the Czech Republic three years ago. Rumours of a fall-out between the players after the Sweden match have been circulating, but while they admit to having held a clear-the-air meeting, talk of a rift has been dismissed.
If Bulgaria are seeking inspiration they need look no further than the 1994 FIFA World Cup when, after losing the opener 3-0 against Nigeria, they went on to contest a third place play-off. Now Markov and his team find themselves in a similar position, hoping to summon up the spirit of the 'Golden Boys' of ten years ago.
The Bulgaria coach has a number of injury worries with centre-back Predrag Pazin (ankle) and midfield player Marian Hristov (muscle strain) causing the most concern. Pazin is the biggest doubt and could be replaced by PFC Levski Sofia defender Ilian Stoianov.
Velizar Dimitrov also has a calf strain, but should be fit and might find himself in a recast midfield alongside Georgi Peev, Hristov and the two Petrovs, Martin and Stilian, the latter winning his 50th cap. The only other change could be at the back where the experienced Daniel Borimirov might be called into the problem right-back position in preference to Vladimir Ivanov.
If Dimitrov does play, it will be at the expense of Zoran Jankovic, with Dimitar Berbatov forced to play as a lone striker. It is a role the Bayer 04 Leverkusen forward knows well, and he admitted he is desperate to salvage some pride. "It was a disastrous result for us against Sweden," Berbatov said. "But we have to pick ourselves up and show everyone that Bulgaria can play good football. I'm really determined to score some goals in this game."
The atmosphere is less fevered in the Denmark camp as they prepare to build on an impressive opening draw with Italy. Morten Olsen has a full complement of players now that Jesper Grønkjær has arrived following his mother's funeral, but faces a dilemma over whether to recall Thomas Gravesen who has just served a one-match suspension.
Olsen said: "I must admit that I am in doubt about Gravesen. He may not be willing to wait any longer to play, but maybe he'll have to." Having been so dependent on Gravesen as his midfield leader in recent years, it would be a major surprise if he did not come straight back in alongside Martin Jørgensen, Christian Poulsen and one of Dennis Rommedahl and Grønkjær in midfield.
The back four picks itself with Thomas Helveg, Martin Laursen – outstanding against Italy – René Henriksen and Niclas Jensen lining up in front of Thomas Sørensen. Ebbe Sand and Jon Dahl Tomasson will form the strike partnership, with Tomasson making his customary runs from deep.
The AC Milan forward has fond memories of Bulgaria having scored two goals against them in Sofia three years ago, but like his team-mates, he will not want to underestimate Markov's side who will be out to avenge that defeat as well as restoring their own battered pride.
Bulgaria (probable): Zdravkov; Ivanov/Borimirov, Pazin/Stoianov, Kirilov, Petkov; Peev, Hristov, S Petrov, M Petrov; Dimitrov/Jankovic, Berbatov.
Denmark (probable): Sørensen; Helveg, Laursen, Henriksen, N Jensen; Jørgensen, Gravesen, Poulsen, Grønkjær; Tomasson, Sand.
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