Back in Europe after an 18-year absence and with an away goal to their name following a 1-1 first-leg draw at HŠK Zrinjski, PFC Botev Plovdiv are looking good to extend their return to continental football beyond the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round.
Stanimir Stoilov's Canaries disposed of Kazakhstan's FC Astana in the first round, posting a resounding 5-0 home win, and a glamorous tie with VfB Stuttgart awaits the young Botev Plovdiv side should they progress on Thursday. Despite having a team packed with entertainers, though, all eyes will be on one man when they run out at the Lazur Stadium in Burgas – 20-year-old starlet Todor Nedelev.
Already with two goals in this competition this season, the Bulgarian Under-21 international schemer has also started the domestic campaign in red-hot form, scoring two stunning strikes in Sunday's 2-1 victory over visiting PFC Levski Sofia as the Bulgarian A League kicked off.
Tipped for greatness from a tender age, Nedelev has taken time to make his mark but, under the tutelage of Stoilov, he is blossoming. "I just shot the ball and it went in," was the midfielder's simple explanation of his Levski brace, though he quickly shifted focus from his own display. "As players we all help each other on the pitch, that is why we are playing so well. I hope for a repeat on Thursday against Zrinjski."
Until now the No8 has been considered a playmaker in the Botev Plovdiv tradition of Petar Zehtinski and Kostadin Vidilov, but his eye for goal suggests he may yet develop ino a free-scoring forward. Last term, his second in the top flight, Nedelev hit nine goals and provided 13 assists in 29 league games.
"I know I have to work even harder," he said. "I like to score goals but I also like supplying the killer pass. My place is here at Botev, this is the best possible club for me at the moment. I believe Botev are on equal terms with the leading sides like Levski Sofia, CSKA Sofia and Ludogorets [Razgrad]. We will try to write a successful new chapter in our history."
"Nedelev has the potential. He must keep his feet on the ground but he must also show ambition. He can only get better," said his coach, who acknowledges it will be no easy task when Zrinjski arrive in Bulgaria from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nonetheless he hopes his prodigy can guide Botev Plovdiv into the third qualifying round. "The first leg against Zrinjski was tough. They dominated the opening exchanges, then we managed to create some good chances but should have been more focused in converting our opportunities. The second leg will be tough again and we need to be more consistent in our performance."
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