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Bulgarians primed for action

South-West Region-Sofia are hoping to reach the final of the UEFA Regions' Cup as they host qualifying Group 7.

South-West Region-Sofia are hoping to reach the final of the UEFA Regions' Cup as they host qualifying Group 7.

Host team
The Bulgarian hosts face competition from Russian side Chernozomie Amateur, Italians Toscana Amateur and their opening opponents from Finland, Järvenpään Palloseura, whom they face on 21 September. They are hoping to become the second Bulgarian side, after Plovdiv Amateur in 2000/01, to reach the Regions' Cup finals.

Slavia hero
Their leader is 48-year-old Ivan Iliev, a former Bulgarian international who was one of PFC Slavia Sofia's greatest players of the 1970s, along with club legends like Andrei Zhelyazkov, Chavdar Tsvetkov, Bozhidar Grigorov, Vanyo Kostov. He coaches FC Vihar Gorublyane in the Bulgarian third division as well as South-West Region-Sofia.

Young team
With an average age of just 22, Iliev's men will have plenty of energy. They include four amateur players from second division FC Minyor Bobov Dol as well as a host of players from other smaller amateur teams around the Bulgarian capital. All will be hoping to emulate the achievements of Martin Kamburov - once a South-West Region-Sofia player and now a Bulgarian league champion with PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv.

Modest ambitions
Järvenpään, or JäPS as they are more commonly known, come to the mini-tournament with less dramatic ambitions than their hosts. Casting themselves as rank outsiders, they are a defensively-inclined side but believe they can sneak a few goals and cause their opponents problems in Bulgaria.

League campaign
Hailing from the city of Järvenpää, 30km north of the Finnish capital Helsinki, they are currently playing in one of Finland's nine parallel amateur third divisions. Their league campaign ends this weekend and then, finally, they will be able to concentrate solely on their European adventure.

Cup run
Coached by Markku Eskelinen, JäPS qualified for the Regions' Cup as the most successful amateur side in last season's Finnish Cup, reaching the last 16 before being beaten by top-flight side FF Jaro. Their star striker, Janne Karppinen, has already scored 19 goals this season and is hungry for more.

Russian side
While the hosts and JäPS are in action in the opening game, Chernozomie will take on Toscana in the second game. The 45-year-old Alexander Shabanov will take charge of the Russian team, but it is the Italian side who may be tipped for success thanks to the impressive record of their predecessors.

Italian record
Veneto Amateur won the inaugural Regions' Cup final tournament on home territory in 1999, while another Italian side, Piemonte Valle d'Aosta Amateur, reclaimed the trophy for Italy in 2002/03, winning 2-1 against French side Ligue du Maine Amateur at a well-attended final in Germany.

Final games
This season's Italian contenders Toscana are led by 61-year-old coach Alberto Cappellino. His predecessor as coach, Stefano Mannelli said of the Toscana team: "We have several technically-skilled players and we can always score goals. It will be a difficult tournament but we hope to achieve a good result."

Tournament structure
After facing Chernozomie on 21 September, Toscana will face JäPS on 23 September before taking on the hosts in the final game of the tournament on 25 October while Chernozomie play their final game against JäPS. The team that tops the table after those final games will travel to the Regions' Cup finals next June.