Football is by far the most popular sport in the country.
Many Bulgarian fans follow closely the top Bulgarian league,
the Bulgarian "A" Professional Football Group, as
well as the leagues of other European countries, such as those
of Spain, England, Italy and Germany. The greatest success
of the Bulgaria national football team was a fourth place
finish at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States. Certainly,
the best known Bulgarian footballer is Hristo Stoichkov. He
is widely regarded as one of the world's finest football players
in the world , at the peak of his career between 1992 and
1995, while playing for FC Barcelona winning the Ballon d'Or
in 1994. Additionally, he was named in the FIFA 100 ranking.
Georgi Asparuhov-Gundi (1943-1971), was himself extremely
popular at home and abroad having had offers from clubs in
Italy and Portugal. He died tragically in a car accident at
the peak of his career. He was awarded Bulgarian football
player ?1 for the twentieth century. PFC CSKA Sofia (champion
of Bulgaria 30 times) and PFC Levski Sofia (25 times champion
of Bulgaria and 26 times holder of the National Cup as of
2007) are the most successful Bulgarian football clubs. Other
popular clubs include PFC Lokomotiv Sofia, PFC Litex Lovech,
PFC Cherno More Varna, PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv and PFC Botev
Plovdiv (the oldest club in Bulgaria,est. 1912). PFC Levski
Sofia is the first Bulgarian team to have participated in
the modern UEFA Champions League (after 1989) having achieved
this by qualifying for the 2006/2007 competition.
Aside from football, Bulgaria boasts great achievements
in a great variety of other sports. Maria Gigova and Maria
Petrova each have a record of three world titles in rhythmic
gymnastics. Some other famous gymnasts include Simona Peycheva,
Neshka Robeva (a highly successful coach as well) and Yordan
Yovtchev. Bulgarians are also dominant in weightlifting,
with around 1,000 gold medals in different competitions,
and wrestling; Stefan Botev, Nickolai Peshalov, Demir Demirev
and Yoto Yotov are among the most distinguished weightlifters
and Serafim Barzakov, Armen Nazarian and Sergey Moreyko
are world-class wrestlers.
Bulgarians also take great pride in the country's achievements
in athletics. Stefka Kostadinova, who still holds the women's
high jump world record, jumped 209 centimetres at the 1987
World Championships in Athletics in Rome to clinch the coveted
title. Presently, Bulgaria is proud of its sprinters, namely
Ivet Lalova and Tezdzhan Naimova.
Volleyball recently marked a big resurgence. The Bulgarian
national volleyball team is one of the strongest teams in
Europe, currently ranked fifth in the FIVB ranklist. At
the 2006 Volleyball World Championship, they won the bronze
medal. Chess is also very popular. One of the top chess-masters
in the world, Veselin Topalov, is Bulgarian. At the end
of 2005, both men's and women's world chess champions were
Bulgarian as well as the junior world champion.
At the 1998 Winter Olympics, Ekaterina Dafovska won the
Olympic title from 15 km competition in biathlon and Irina
Nikulchina took a bronze medal at the same Olympic Games.
Another pride for the Bulgarian nation in winter sports
is Evgenia Radanova, who won bronze and silver medals in
the following two Olympic Games. Albena Denkova and Maxim
Staviski are another example of Bulgarian champions on the
ice — this time speaking of ice dancing and figure
skating. The couple is the reigning world champions, holding
the title for both 2006 and 2007. The couple also won the
ISU Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg in December 2006.
Bulgaria's state agency for Youth and Sport is the governing
body for sport in Bulgaria. The current minister in charge
of it is Vesela Lecheva. As of November 11, 2005, Stefka
Kostadinova is the President of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee.
|The Vasil Levski National Stadium with PFC Levski
Sofia hosting Chelsea F.C. in a Champions League Group