Bulgaria know that few people will be backing them to win the European Championship in Portugal, especially after they were drawn in a group with Sweden, Italy and Denmark for the opening round.
The 1994 World Cup semi-finalists are realistic about their chances and coach Plamen Markov says his team will simply do the best they can.
"Bulgaria are definitely not among the favourites in Group C," Markov said after the draw.
"We come from a small football country and it is an honour for Bulgaria to participate in this competition...but we do our best to achieve the best results we can."
Markov has done an excellent job, changing the Bulgarian team's style of play and, more importantly, boosting their confidence following the failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
But a 2-0 defeat in a February friendly against Greece, who have also qualified for Portugal, was a timely warning for the Bulgarians after the euphoria of clinching a place at the finals by winning their qualifying group.
Bargaining over money with officials before the match proved a distraction to the players and the matter has yet to be resolved, although Markov has backed their demand for a rise in match fees to 1,500 euros ($1,818) from 1,000 euros.
"The players have normal demands and we have to respond to them before the finals," he said.
The Athens friendly highlighted defensive weaknesses in Markov's side and dealing with those will certainly be his biggest task as he prepares for Portugal.
"It is certain that if there are problems at the European Championship, they will come from the defence," said former Bulgaria captain Georgi Dimitrov. "Because we have very good footballers at the other positions."
The defensive display in Athens prompted calls for the return of Charlton Athletic right back Radostin Kishishev, who, feeling slighted after the captaincy was handed to Stilian Petrov, quit the Bulgaria squad 18 days before last June's Euro 2004 qualifier against Belgium.
He had a change of mind soon afterwards and said he hoped to be included in the squad after all -- but Markov left him out of his squad in the end, unable to forgive or forget.
To add to Markov's woes, his central defensive pairing of Ilian Stoyanov and Elin Topuzakov have been in poor form for their troubled club side Levski Sofia.
Ivailo Petkov has made the left back spot his own but has spent a lot of this season on the bench as his club Fenerbahce struggle with Turkey's limit on foreign players.
In goal, Zdravko Zdravkov has not played since he moved to Litex Lovech after leaving Istanbulspor in January while his back-up Dimitar Ivankov is captain of Levski Sofia.
Another player at Levski Sofia is experienced midfielder Daniel Borimirov, whose form has disappointed since he moved to the club from TSV 1860 Munich during the winter break.
The 34-year-old Borimirov is the only player remaining from the side that reached the 1994 World Cup semi-finals.
On the positive side other defensive options such as Litex Lovech's Rosen Kirilov and Zlatomir Zagorcic, along with Predrag Pazhin of Shakhtar Donetsk, are playing well.
More bad news for Markov is that Portsmouth striker Svetoslav Todorov is out of the championship after failing to maintain a recovery from a serious knee injury while training last August.
On the plus side players such as Dimitar Berbatov, Stilian Petrov, Martin Petrov, Peev and Velizar Dimitrov -- all in their mid-20s -- impressed in the qualifying campaign.
Midfielders Marian Hristov and Milen Petkov along with striker Zoran Jankovic are again expected to form the backbone of the team in Portugal.
Bulgaria dominated qualifying Group Eight, finishing top with 17 points, one clear of Croatia and Belgium. Their only defeat came in the final match when they lost 1-0 in Croatia after their qualification for the finals was already assured.
They open their campaign against Sweden on June 14 and Markov was typically cautious when assessing his team's first opponents.
"Let us hope they will not be as strong as they have traditionally been," he said. - Liliana Semerdjieva
Stilian Petrov is at the heart of a new generation of Bulgarian players who hope one day to emulate the success of the team that reached the last four of the 1994 World Cup.
Smart, self-assured and good-looking, the 24-year-old Petrov will lead his country to their third appearance at the European Championship finals in Portugal next month...
coach Markov taking a
|The Bulgarian second division club Vidima-Rakovski Sevlievo does not immediately suggest itself as a training ground for a successful national coach.
But then, not every second division manager has the special ingredient contained in Plamen Markov's soccer make-up.
Markov, 46, was coaching his home-town club in December 2001 when the Bulgarian FA decided that this former international from the 1980s was the man they needed to head the national team's assault on the
Euro 2004 and he has not let them down.
But Markov is preaching caution as he prepares his players for their appearance on one of the biggest stages in sport for the first time in eight years.
Although Bulgaria beat Cameroon 3-0 in a friendly in Sofia at the end of April, a 2-0 defeat in their first warm-up against fellow
finalists Greece in February poured cold water on the euphoria that greeted Bulgaria's qualification for Euro 2004 as group winners.
"We have been brought back down to earth," Markov said. "We really needed a game against a strong team but we still have a lot of work to do until the
The draw, where Bulgaria were placed in Group C with Sweden, Italy and Denmark, has not helped.
Markov knows that his caution will do nothing to cool the nation's belief that his side can go through to the quarter-finals, 10 years after Bulgaria reached the last four of the 1994 World Cup finals.
Bulgaria's weakness is their defence and Markov will be hoping he has solved that problem by the time Bulgaria open their tournament with a match against Sweden on June 14.
Markov's reign began after Bulgaria's 6-0 defeat to the Czech Republic cost his predecessor Stoicho Mladenov his job as Bulgaria failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
His appointment was greeted with scepticism,
saying he lacked experience of coaching at the highest level.
Two years later, following a dominant Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, his team are being compared with the most talented generation of players the country has produced
- the 1994 World Cup semi-finalists.
Quiet and modest, Markov has introduced a new style of play to the team based on a flat back four with a lone striker and most players functioning in the same roles as they have at their clubs.
Most importantly, Markov has worked hard on fostering team spirit and his novel techniques have included taking the players to the theatre during
Markov, who studied at a French coaching school and is a graduate of Bulgaria's Sports Academy, previously coached French club Grenoble, the Bulgarian under-21 team and premier league club CSKA Sofia as well as Vidima.
As a player he won five league titles with CSKA and made 38 appearances for Bulgaria, scoring six goals.
But his principal service to his country has been transforming a dejected group of players into a side ready to take on Europe's best again.