Season review: Bulgaria

Promoted PFC Ludogorets Razgrad won the title on a thrilling final day of a season in which PFC Litex Lovech goalkeeper Ilko Pirgov played 31 times – in a 30-game campaign.

Ludogorets celebrate after winning the Bulgarian Cup final
Ludogorets celebrate after winning the Bulgarian Cup final ©Stoyan Georgiev

PFC Ludogorets Razgrad sealed an unprecedented domestic double in their first season in the Bulgarian A League after triumphing 1-0 in their final-day showdown with PFC CSKA Sofia.

Champions: PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
The Crazy Forest – as Ludogorets is roughly translated – made history in Bulgaria, winning the title in their maiden season in the top flight. Backed by the financial power of owner Kiril Domuschiev, the Ludogorets miracle started in 2010, when the team won promotion from the East Second Division. Another promotion followed 12 months later, but few expected that the team would challenge for silverware.

Ludogorets made a flying start among the elite, though, and racked up 25 points from the first nine games. After three consecutive defeats against PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936, PFC Slavia Sofia and PFC Cherno More Varna, it seemed as if the dream had come unstuck, but coach Ivaylo Petev managed to rally his troops. A strong finish, with eight wins and a draw in the last nine league games, brought home the title on the final day, after a winner-takes-all duel with leaders CSKA Sofia.

Ludogorets had to win in order to leapfrog the Army Men, and a splendid first-half free kick by Miroslav Ivanov clinched the triumph. "We were lucky in the second half, when CSKA Sofia hit the woodwork twice, but we really deserved the title," coach Petev said.

Cup final: PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1-2 PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
Ludogorets made the first step towards the seemingly impossible domestic double on 16 May in the cup final against Plovdiv. Ludogorets had a relatively easy passage to the final, while their opponents had to overcome challenges from PFC Levski Sofia and PFC Litex Lovech in the latter stages. Plovdiv took the lead in the final thanks to Dakson's strike after 18 minutes, but in the second half Ludogorets found their rhythm and Marcelinho scored twice in the 76th and the 83rd minutes to give his side a taste of silverware for the first time. 

European places*
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round

PFC CSKA Sofia – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

PFC Levski Sofia – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Junior Morães (PFC CSKA Sofia)
The attacking midfielder was voted Players' Player of The Season, following his excellent performances for CSKA in the second half of the season. He also became the league's joint-top goalscorer, level with Ludogorets' Ivan Stoyanov on 16 goals. Morães took 24 league games to reach that figure, which included a hat-trick against the 2011 champions, Litex.

One to watch: Georgi Milanov (PFC Litex Lovech)
It was a difficult campaign for the 2010 and 2011 champions, but one bright note was the performance of midfielder Georgi Milanov. He caught the eye with his assured displays, and was duly voted Young Player of the Season.

Surprise package: PSFC Chernomorets Burgas
Under the guidance of experienced coach Dimitar Dimitrov, who also had to overcome serious health problems during the season, Chernomorets played an attractive brand of football and stayed in the top three for most of the season. However, 1-1 draws in the last two home games against Litex and PFC Lokomotiv Sofia denied the Sharks a place in the UEFA Europa League.

Leading scorers: Junior Morães, PFC CSKA Sofia and Ivan Stoyanov, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (16)

Relegated: PFC Svetkavista Turgovishte, PFC Kaliakra Kavarna, PFC Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo

Promoted: PFC Etar Veliko Turnovo, PFC Pirin Gotse Delchev and PFC Botev Plovdiv

Number: 2,765
Goalkeeper Ilko Pirgov actually played 31 league games and 2,765 minutes, despite the season comprising just 30 matches. Pirgov managed 15 games in the first half of the campaign for Cherno More Varna, then 16 for Litex in the second half – because of a postponed fixture. Otherwise, no player managed to appear in all 2,700 minutes. Levski Sofia goalkeeper Plamen Iliev came close but, after he played every minute of his team's first 29 fixtures, he made way for Bozhidar Mitrev for the last 34 minutes of the season.

"It was a very dramatic game. I almost needed an ambulance. Now it's time to go and have a nice whisky and dance with the boys." Ludogorets' owner Kiril Domuschiev breathes out following the 1-0 win over CSKA on the last day of the season, which saw his side complete the double.