Friday 22 March 2024, 08:00

Bulgaria savouring FIFA Series 2024 challenge

  • Bulgaria will participate in two friendly matches in Azerbaijan

  • Before taking on the hosts, they will go head-to-head with African side Tanzania

  • Facing a country from a different continent constitutes an exciting challenge for the European team

Bulgaria’s players touched down in Baku on Tuesday, ready to spare no effort in the friendly matches that await them as part of the inaugural FIFA Series 2024™.

The much-anticipated first fixture, versus Tanzania at the Azerbaijan venue, is scheduled for Friday, while an encounter with the host nation will follow on Monday.

“[The FIFA Series] is a great initiative; it’s a good opportunity for us, because we’re one of the first teams to participate in this type of project,” Bulgaria coach Ilian Iliev told Inside FIFA, highlighting the benefits of the FIFA Series for national teams. “We salute FIFA for it.”

He continued: “Firstly, we get to meet teams with different styles of play, like the African nations. If one day we manage to qualify for the World Cup, this would be useful preparation for that. And secondly, it’s a good chance for non-European teams to face European teams and get an idea of what to expect.”

Bulgarian skipper Kiril Despodov also stressed the importance of taking part in meaningful matches involving sides from other confederations. “For the team as a whole, it’s a new challenge to play against teams from different confederations, teams that we could potentially face in other tournaments too,” he said. “It’s helpful for us to play a few good games.”

Crossing swords with nations from other continents and unlocking technical development opportunities have been great incentives for the Bulgarians in their preparations for these tests, as Iliev emphasised during what is just his second training camp since taking charge of the Lions.

“This is only the second time we’ve all met up, and we want to see how our players have progressed after our work with them,” explained the coach. “I’d like to see if our game styles differ: for example, how we would face a team from Africa. I’ve worked as a coach there, and I know that their teams can offer something different from those in Europe.

“We already know Azerbaijan, as they have played in Europe, in the European Championship qualifiers, in our groups. As for Tanzania, on the other hand, it’s a bit harder to convince the lads that they’re going to be facing a good team, one which features a number of players playing in Europe too.” This type of statement underlines how the FIFA Series™ provides a substantially more valuable competitive experience for players, teams and fans, and can make a notable contribution to football development.

The Bulgarians, currently sitting in 83rd spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, recently finished rock bottom of their qualifying section for UEFA EURO 2024, so they are acutely aware of how beneficial this kind of initiative could be for them in the long term.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Despodov, the newly crowned Bulgarian Footballer of the Year. “For sure, we have to get our self-esteem back, [our pride] as a nation, because with it being 20 years since we qualified for a major event, our self-esteem is definitely low, and we need to start believing in ourselves more. We have a lot of very good, talented players, and together we can pull the team forward to big competitions.”

The forward’s indirect reference to EURO 2004, the last major tournament in which Bulgaria took part, is mirrored by the thoughts of fans of the Bulgarian national team, who often tend to dwell on this undesirable run. Consequently, this series of friendly encounters could represent a first step on the long road back to the upper echelons of Planet Football. “For us it’s a great opportunity to be able to use these games as part of our preparations,” concluded Iliev.

The FIFA Series comprises a set of friendlies between national teams from different confederations that do not normally have the opportunity to play each other. Its overriding aim is to encourage more international interaction beyond the tournaments and qualifiers in which national sides usually compete, which will doubtless be of benefit to global football development.

You can follow all the matches here.

Football Development