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Stilian Petrov at the heart of Bulgaria's new generation
Stilian Petrov
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.

Bulgaria's Footballer of the Year took over the captaincy after a squad vote last April, replacing Krassimir Balakov who was part of the team which beat holders Germany to reach the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup.

While the Celtic midfielder recognises his relative youth and has been taking advice from the experienced Balakov and Hristo Stoichkov, he has never let age be an obstacle to his goals.

"Stanly", as he is known in his hometown of Montana, was just 19 when he moved to Scotland from CSKA Sofia in June 1999.

After a period of adjustment, he has established himself as a firm favourite at Parkhead and won three Scottish championships, played in the Champions League and last year in the UEFA Cup final.

He scored in Celtic's 3-1 Scottish Cup final victory over Dunfermline Athletic on Saturday.

A hard worker, his energy in midfield and dynamic raids on the opposition's penalty area made him a vital part of Plamen Markov's team during Bulgaria's highly successful qualifying campaign for Euro 2004. He played in all eight matches and scored in the first two matches against Belgium and Croatia.

Petrov, no relation to Bulgaria winger Martin Petrov, is aware that the side will not be among the favourites in Portugal as they face Sweden, Denmark and 2000 runners-up Italy in the first round.

"Everything depends on us," he said. "Our opponents are strong...But I'm sure that all teams respect us because we are unpredictable."

Petrov's career has not all been plain-sailing and he overcame a severe injury three years ago after breaking his left leg in two places against St Johnstone.

It was originally feared he would be out for nine months, but he was back playing in the September of that year and scored a goal in Celtic's 3-2 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League later the same month.

Petrov was already an international by the time he moved to Celtic after making his Bulgaria debut in 1998 and he has now made 47 appearances for his country, scoring six goals.

Very much a family man, Petrov skipped Bulgaria's friendly against Hungary in Cyprus in February last year to be present at the birth of his son, also named Stilian.
- Liliana Semerdjieva




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