Despite losing some players to professional sides, South-West Region Sofia are full of hope.
By Stoyan Georgiev
The south-western part of Bulgaria takes in the capital city, Sofia, which has long-since been the focus of all footballing activity in the country, with PFC CSKA Sofia and PFC Levski Sofia winning 53 titles between them. The South-West Region Sofia side that travels to the UEFA Regions' Cup finals has been stripped of some of its best players, with Kaloyan Karadvzinov and Georgi Georgiev having signed for professional sides PFC Lokomotiv Sofia and PFC Cherno More Varna respectively, but they have been training hard in Botevgrad and aim to make an impression.
THE MAN IN COMMAND
Now 49, Ivan Iliev was one of PFC Slavia Sofia's best players of the 1970s and 1980s, scoring 16 goals in 247 games for a team featuring Bulgarian internationals Andrei Zhelyazkov and Chavdar Tsvetkov. In a golden age for the club, Slavia won the 1975 and 1980 Bulgarian Cups, while Iliev himself was called up to the national team making 20 appearances. He is now coach of FC Vihar Gorublyane as well as South-West Region Sofia.
uefa.com: How are you preparing for your first game of the finals against JMKFS Brno?
Ivan Iliev: I confess we do not know anything about the Czech side. We will be blind against them. That will be our first game in the finals and it will be very hard for us to get any sort of information about them. I suppose that after that we will have picked up some information on our next two opponents as we will have been watching their games. The Bulgarian refereee Dimitar Dimitrov was in charge of one of [the Central Slovakia] games in qualifying. He has already informed us about some aspects of their game.
uefa.com: Are you concerned about the quality of opponents that you will come up against in Malopolska?
Iliev: We have come through some very tough games like the ones against the sides from Russia and Italy in our qualifying tournament, but we have had a lot of changes in our team since then [with Kaloyan Karadvzinov and Georgi Georgiev moving on]. But we are optimistic. After all this is a final tournament. I have some promising lads available and I am sure they will give their best.
The executive director of Bulgaria's Amateur Football League, Valentin Chakarov, also spoke to uefa.com.
Valentin Chakarov: Our amateur side have proved to be very competitive in recent years. In 2001 the team finished third in the finals of the Regions' Cup in the Czech Republic. Some people probably know that current Bulgarian international Martin Kamburov played in that side. He revealed his potential and moved up to a higher level. He topped the goalscoring charts in the Bulgarian Premier League in the last two seasons and was instrumental in [PFC] Lokomotiv Plovdiv winning their first ever league title in 2004.
Obviously, players who get their chance while playing for amateur sides may then move to another level. We are working very hard to develop amateur football. People probably do not realise that it is a very important branch of the game. We are working very closely with UEFA and I am sure amateur football is moving in the right direction.