South-West Region-Sofia will be without two players when they take on Vasca in Saturday's final.
By Jim Wirth in Krakow
South-West Region-Sofia will be without two players as they take on Spanish representatives Vasca in the final of the UEFA Regions' Cup. Ivan Iliev's men won through after a tense 2-2 draw against Central Slovakia in Zabierzow in their final Group A game, but victory came at a cost.
Tsvetko Ivanov was dismissed for a late challenge after 75 minutes to reduce them to ten men, and moments after the final whistle, his team-mate Tsvetomir Ralkov was cautioned by the referee, Igor Egorov, for making an obscene gesture towards an opponent. UEFA subsequently decided this was a red-card offence and he will also be suspended for the final.
Skill in reserve
However, with their disciplined style and the outrageous skills of midfielder Ivaylo Angelov, Sofia should still have plenty in reserve for Saturday's showpiece in Proszowice. In the tall Ivan Todorov, they also have the competition's most prolific goalscorer. He has four so far, and has made his mark in every game he has played at the finals.
Vasca remain many people's favourites to win the trophy. A member of the Vasca delegation was full of confidence as he addressed the teams at the farewell dinner on Thursday night. "In 1977 it was Athletic [Club Bilbao who reached a European final], in 2001 it was [Deportivo] Alavés," he said. "But this Saturday we will become the first Basque team to be European champions."
Having made sweeping changes to his side for all three finals matches, coach José Antonio Goikoetxea has ensured that all his players have been given a run-out, and with no suspensions, he will have a full squad to pick from on Saturday. Add the presence of star striker Alain Arroyo, who is expected to join Primera División club Alavés this summer, and Vasca will be firing on all cylinders.
The referee will be Bosnia-Herzegovina's Novo Panic, who will be officiating in his second European final, having taken charge of the 2002/03 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final between Portugal and Spain. He will be assisted by Northern Ireland's John McDowell and Russia's Vladislav Khodeev, with Sweden's Daniel Stalhammer acting as fourth official.
With six referees and eight assistants having participated here in Poland, it was Leslie Irvine's duty as referees observer to make the appointments for the final. Panic got the nod despite fierce competition from his colleagues from all across Europe.
A former international referee, Irvine told uefa.com he had been delighted with the quality of decision-making throughout the tournament. "The overall standard was of a very high quality," he said. "Particularly pleasing was the consistent application and interpretation of the laws of the game. And it's pleasing to hear very little dissatisfaction from the participating teams."
Panic, meanwhile, was looking forward to taking command for one last time. "The players are very professional in this tournament," he told uefa.com. "I hope we have a good game tomorrow."