Stoichkov to face hostile Levski reception

Litex Lovech coach Hristo Stoichkov will face a hostile crowd at Levski Sofia on Friday when he visits the ground for the first time having enjoyed a great rivalry with the team in the 1980s.

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Hristo Stoichkov

The former European Footballer of the Year, widely considered to be the best Bulgarian player of all time, began his illustrious career at CSKA Sofia - Levski's fierce city rivals - and never disguised his disdain for The Blues.

Playing in the "Eternal derby" against Levski has always been something special for "The Dagger", as Stoichkov is known in the Balkan country, but he never actually set foot on the pitch at the Georgi Asparuhov stadium as a player.

Matches between CSKA and Levski were staged at the Vasil Levski national stadium, then a 70,000-capacity ground, during the Communist rule due to the huge crowds.

"He should expect a 'Welcome to Hell' reception as very few fans will be reluctant to express their feelings toward him," said 26-year-old Levski supporter Yordan Georgiev.

Levski are second in the Bulgarian league with 19 points from seven matches while Litex are third on 14 points.

Levski fans have prepared special banners for the game while some of the "ultras" intend to leave their traditional places behind one of the goals to sit near Litex's bench and make Stoichkov "regret he came to the stadium".

Police have unveiled strict security measures for the match including special protection for the former Bulgaria coach.

Stoichkov, 46, was instrumental in helping CSKA win three league titles, four national cups and one Super Cup between 1984 and 1990, when the playmaker moved to Barcelona to become a key member of Dutch coach Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team".

He was involved in fighting with CSKA players during the 1985 Bulgarian Cup final, which resulted in a lifelong ban that was eventually reduced to a one-year suspension.

Four years later, Stoichkov, known for his aggressive manner on the field and frequent arguments with referees, scored four goals in a 5-0 humiliation of Levski.

Flamboyant Stoichkov wore a number 4 shirt in the next clash with Levski, causing an avalanche of resentment in the stands.

In 1998, he returned for a brief spell at CSKA and was an unused substitute in the domestic cup final against Levski but it was still a hard task to prevent him starting a fight with opposite fans on his way to the dressing room.

Stoichkov, who took over at Litex in January, declined to comment on what he expected from Friday's match, interrupting reporters in his characteristic "warrior" style.

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