Yordan Letchkov on USA '94: "The Germans congratulated us. They behaved like gentlemen"

The 'Bald Eagle' tells Stoyan Georgiev about USA 94's surprise package

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Did the Bulgaria team think they could do well at the World Cup?

Before the tournament began, I predicted that we would reach the semi-finals. I believed in our ability. We had great players but needed to gel as a team. There was no pressure on us, and that’s why it happened.

You had done well to even qualify for the World Cup, hadn’t you?

Well, our confidence really grew from that great 2-1 win in the final qualifier over France at Parc des Princes in Paris thanks to an injury-time winner from Emil Kostadinov. We had some points before that, but it was that win that changed history. I was substituted just before the final whistle. It was a great battle but we were very calm psychologically – that allowed us to win against France. If you want to achieve something big, you can go for it at any cost, but you can only do it if you keep your composure.

You started well, scoring against Greece, then hit the winning penalty in the shootout against Mexico...

The Greece goal came after some good build-up play throughout the team, and that proved that we really played like a team. We knew that if you play on your own you will achieve nothing. Against Mexico I was calm, because I knew that Hristo Stoichkov was due to take a penalty after me, and we only needed to score one of our two. So that made it easier.

Then you headed the winner in the quarter-final to eliminate Germany...

The day before the match we celebrated two birthdays, mine and the coach Dimitar Penev’s. We felt there was no pressure on us, while the Germans were under pressure. We played with freedom and did really well. After the game the Germans behaved like gentlemen. They came and congratulated us. Their coach Berti Vogts also shook our hands. That showed their great mentality.

What was the impact of that game on your life?

The most important thing was that the win united the nation. The way we were greeted on our return in Sofia was unbelievable. A player can only dream about receiving such love and passion from people. I always gave my best for the national team. That is what I am. If you want to succeed, you must give your best. I don’t think I have changed much in the last 15 years. I am still the same person and I always say it as it is. I am a straight talker.

What are your other memories of the tournament?

I remember that the FBI were providing our security services and every day for 45 days, they would see us have a drink, smoke a cigarette, or go to a bar. When we left, they said they would miss us – and they weren’t joking.