Stiliyan Petrov said it was "a great honour" to receive UEFA's award for players who have gained 100 caps as he and Martin Petrov enjoyed the U17 opener in Stara Zagora.
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There was a special moment for UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals ambassador Stiliyan Petrov ahead of Wednesday's opening game as he received UEFA's ceremonial cap and medal for players with 100 international appearances to their name.
The former Bulgaria captain received his award from Bulgarian Football Union (BFS) president and UEFA Executive Committee member Borislav Mihaylov to a standing ovation from a capacity crowd of almost 11,000 fans in Stara Zagora before the U17 hosts lost to Croatia.
Former PFC CSKA Sofia, Celtic FC and Aston Villa FC midfielder Petrov, who appeared 106 times for Bulgaria and captained them at UEFA EURO 2004 before his career was cut short by leukemia, stayed for almost an hour after the match to mingle with fans alongside his friend and ex-team-mate Martin Petrov.
"It really is a great honour and privilege to receive this award, especially before the start of such a big event," said the 2003 UEFA Cup finalist with Celtic. "The fans in Stara Zagora showed their best, the atmosphere was really great, though the result was disappointing. Croatia were the better side, they were physically superior, but there were some good signs after the break.
"The boys have never played in front of such a crowd before and I am sure in the next two games they will play much better. There is talent in the squad and the most important thing is to move in the right direction and stay positive."
He also praised the tournament organisation. "It is a great start. I hope the fans will continue to support all the teams in the coming games. The atmosphere here in Stara Zagora was so good and I hope it will be same at the other venues."
Martin Petrov – who retired last year after a career in which he won 90 caps and played in Spain, England and Switzerland – was in reflective mood. "We have had so many memories together," he said. "We had happy moments and disappointments also. We are proud to be here and be the faces of this incredible event. The fans were great. These boys need support, their mentality is still fragile. It is a great honour and privilege to be alongside Stiliyan at this game. The organisation of the finals is excellent."
Petrov's key games
Bulgaria 1-1 England
6 June 1999, UEFA EURO 2000 qualifier
Petrov already had several caps under his belt when he came up against Kevin Keegan's England a month shy of his 20th birthday. The teenager gave Jamie Redknapp and Ray Parlour a real battle in midfield, in what proved to be Hristo Stoichkov's final game as a Bulgaria player. A month later, Petrov was off to Celtic FC.
Belgium 0-2 Bulgaria
9 September 2002, UEFA EURO 2004 qualifier
Petrov had already scored in friendly games for his countries – and in UEFA competition fixtures for Celtic – but his first competitive international goal was worth waiting for. His free-kick in the 64th minute in Brussels made it 2-0 and got the Lions off to a superb start in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying.
Bulgaria 2-0 Croatia
12 October 2002, UEFA EURO 2004
The first game at the revamped Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski provided a showcase for Petrov's leadership qualities. Then 23, he scored the opening goal in the 22nd minute after a fine link-up with Dimitar Berbatov, who scored Bulgaria's second before the break.
Bulgaria 0-0 Switzerland
23 March 2011, UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier
The 31-year-old Petrov pulled the strings in midfield, but there was to be no goal as he marked his 100th appearance for his country.
Bulgaria 0-1 Wales
11 October 2011, UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier
Gareth Bale scored a great solo goal seconds before the break, but Petrov was in his usual combative mode in midfield. At the time, nobody knew that his 106th cap would be his last, with the player diagnosed with leukemia a few months later.