Top 10: Players of USA '94

2. Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria

Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t the eventual champions' main striker Romario who took the Golden Boot in the USA. That honour was instead shared between Oleg Salenko and Hristo Stoichkov, although given five of the Russian’s goals came in one absurd game against a dispirited Cameroon, the hirsute Bulgarian could consider himself the moral winner.

Having lost their opening game 3-0 to Nigeria, Bulgaria needed a nerve-steadier early in their second match against Greece. They got it when Stoichkov converted a fifth-minute penalty, before knocking in another in the second half as Bulgaria won 4-0. It was his goal against Argentina in the third group game, though, running clear to squeeze past Luis Islas, that suddenly flooded the talented Bulgarians with belief.

They won 2-0, finished second in the group, and set up a second-round clash with Mexico. Again the timing and pace of Stoichkov’s run were exemplary as he ran on to give Bulgaria the lead from Emil Kostadinov’s through ball. Mexico levelled, but Stoichkov wasn’t needed in the shoot-out.

His finest hour in a Bulgaria shirt came in the quarters against Germany. It wasn’t just that he swept in a free-kick to level a quarter of an hour from time; it was his leadership and the sense of inspiration he provided. His penalty in the semi-final couldn’t prevent a 2-1 defeat to Italy.


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