PFC Beroe Stara Zagora have waited 24 years to sample European football once again but coach Ilian Iliev says the club's supporters will have to bide their time for at least ten more minutes after kick-off at home to SK Rapid Wien on Thursday.
Beroe's reward for their sole Bulgarian title triumph – in 1986 – was a European Champion Clubs' Cup tie against UEFA Cup Winners' Cup holders FC Dynamo Kyiv. Yet optimism after a 1-1 home draw evaporated in Ukraine as Dynamo secured a 3-1 aggregate victory. "Dynamo were a fantastic team at that time," Tenio Minchev, captain of that Beroe side, told UEFA.com.
"They had half of the great USSR team. I remember we played very well in the first leg in Stara Zagora and played even better in the return in Kyiv, but Dynamo had so much quality and class. I would say Beroe's greatest game was against Italian giants Juventus in 1979. We won 1-0 in Stara Zagora and they had six future world champions."
Fast forward to 2010 and Beroe – whose first foray into UEFA competition was a 10-1 aggregate success against FK Austria Wien in 1971 – are back in Europe and back facing Austrian opponents after their maiden Bulgarian Cup win booked a UEFA Europa League third qualifying round berth. "The people of Stara Zagora have waited 24 long years for this game," said Iliev.
"We have had a lot of problems during the summer break. Now we have a lot of new young players who lack experience. There will be some pressure, but it will be gone after the first ten minutes. Rapid are a strong team and it will be very important not to concede a goal."
The last word goes to Minchev, who is looking forward not only to a return to continental action, but also to his son playing for Beroe in Europe. "I never imagined my son, Simeon, would play in European competition like me," he said. "It is a nice feeling. Ilian Iliev is a fantastic coach. He is doing an excellent job and the players believe in him, which is very important for the team." After Thursday's first leg, the Beroe-Rapid tie will conclude in Vienna on 3 August.
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