Ex-Bulgaria right-back Radostin Kishishev explains why the finals in his homeland are a "tremendous opportunity" and recommends sights not to be missed.
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That the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals are coming to Bulgaria this week is a source of great excitement for former national team defender Radostin Kishishev. Capped 83 times, the erstwhile right-back says the tournament – which runs from 6 to 22 May in Sliven, Stara Zagora, Sozopol and his home town of Burgas – affords fans a "great chance to see the best rising stars" of the continental game as well as being a "tremendous opportunity" for the players themselves.
UEFA.com: How important is a tournament like this for young players?
Radostin Kishishev: It is a tremendous opportunity at the highest possible level for these players. It is a great occasion, a great honour and a source of pride for all the youngsters who will come to Bulgaria. When I was a kid, I always dreamt about playing in such tournaments. I made my national team debut for the U21s and it was a dream come true.
I was lucky enough to play for Bulgaria at EURO '96 in England and then at the World Cup in France in 1998. In England I was just 22 – the feeling was unforgettable. I am sure all the players here will feel the same. They must realise that this tournament could be the beginning of a great journey and they must treasure every single moment.
UEFA.com: How much are you looking forward to it?
Kishishev: I am really looking forward to it, and not just because my home town Burgas will be one of the venues and the final will be here at a stadium that means so much to me. As a fan, I will have a great chance to see the best rising stars in Europe.
My last game for Bulgaria at this particular ground was a friendly against Wales in August 2007. I happened to play against a teenager who I had already faced at club level in England – his name was Gareth Bale. Several years later he became the most expensive player in the world. Who knows? Maybe some future world stars will come here for the finals.
UEFA.com: What would you recommend the players and fans do on their days off in and around the host cities?
Kishishev: This part of Bulgaria is very beautiful. The seaside is fantastic in May, just before the start of summer. Being from Burgas, I really enjoy this time of year. There are a lot of places to visit – a lot of historical and architectural sites in all four cities. Of course, given Burgas and Sozopol are by the sea, the fans and players can enjoy a walk on the beaches. The Sea Garden in Burgas is a must.
There's an ancient city nearby in Nesebar, then a few kilometres north you have Sunny Beach, a well-known resort. I reckon everyone who goes to Sozopol will be charmed by the place. It is a small town but there is so much ancient history there. Stara Zagora is also an ancient town with a rich history. Sliven is close to the Balkan Mountains and also has a place in Bulgarian history.
UEFA.com: What can visitors to Bulgaria expect at the tournament?
Kishishev: I am sure they will encounter friendly people and excellent organisation. The people will be warm and helpful. The fans will fill the stadiums and create a wonderful atmosphere. Everyone should enjoy the finals.
UEFA.com: What are your first memories of pulling on a shirt for Bulgaria?
Kishishev: My senior debut came in 1995 – I was just 21 and suddenly playing with the likes of Stoichkov, Balakov, Kostadinov, Lechkov and all the other heroes from the USA World Cup in '94. At first you wonder whether it is a dream or reality. I was lucky enough to play with them in so many games. My career with the national team lasted 13 years and I managed almost 90 caps. I could have reached a century and I treasured every single appearance.