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Bulgaria names midfielder Balakov as coach

Bulgaria have appointed former international midfielder Krasimir Balakov as coach, the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) said in Sofia on Tuesday.

Former Sporting Lisbon and VfB Stuttgart playmaker Balakov, a key member of the Bulgaria team who reached the 1994 World Cup semi-finals, signed a contract until November 2021.

“He is one of the greatest footballers of our time,” BFU president and former Bulgaria goalkeeper Borislav Mihaylov told a news conference. “A man who believes in Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian national team.”

Balakov, 53, succeeds former team mate Petar Hubchev, who surprisingly quit after Bulgaria’s first two matches — draws against Montenegro and Kosovo — in Euro 2020 Qualifying Group A.

Former defender Hubchev was the 10th Bulgaria manager to be sacked or leave the post since 2007.

Balakov, capped 92 times by the Balkan country, will have the tough task of piloting Bulgaria through a Euro 2020 group that also contains England and the Czech Republic.

“Being a coach of the national team is a privilege and a great responsibility,” said Balakov whose first game in charge will be on June 7 against the Czech Republic. “I took the decision very quickly.”

He will also have to deal with a hugely demanding fan base as he attempts to guide Bulgaria to the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 2004.

Balakov previously coached Swiss clubs Grasshoppers Zurich and St Gallen, Croatia’s Hajduk Split and German side Kaiserslautern.

He was also at Bulgaria’s Chernomorets Burgas, Litex Lovech and his home club Etar Veliko Tarnovo.

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