The temperamental genius named Stoichkov

Temperamental and skillful, Hristo Stoichkov was Bulgaria's all-time great footballer and one of the best of his generation.

Hristo Stoichkov shoots on goal during the 1994 World Cup third place play-off match against Sweden.   -  The Hindu Archives

Temperamental and skillful, Hristo Stoichkov was Bulgaria's all-time great footballer and one of the best of his generation. A ballon d'or winner, Stoichkov was part of a strong Barcelona side under Johan Cyruff for five years. Barcelona won everything in Europe during his five-year stay at the club. At a time when only a few footballers from the Balkan country made it big in Europe, Stoichkov was a trailblazer and inspired a generation of footballers from that country.

But crowning moment in Stoichov's international career came in 1994 World Cup in USA. Bulgaria qualified for its first major international tournament since 1986 World Cup and with its golden generation of players under Stoichov's captaincy, the Balkan nation was keen to improve its modest record.

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In the end the fourth place finish was best ever show by Bulgaria in the World Cup. Stoichkov was instrumental in turning a bunch of no hoppers to giant killers. Bulgaria stunned defending champion Germany in the quarterfinals and the run was ended by Baggio's brilliance in the semifinals.

Stoichov won the Golden Shoe (joint top-scorer with Oleg Salenko with six goals) and was voted the third best valuable player of the World Cup behind Romario and Baggio.

 

With the World Cup becoming his stage, Stoichkov showed what damage his lethal left foot could do. Stoichkov scored six goals and found the target in five consecutive matches.

The free kick which he scored against world champion Germany in the quarterfinals stood out for its technical brilliance and power. A dead ball expert, Stoichov was creative as well as good at providing assists. Stoichkov came to the World Cup with a big reputation and left winning praise from even his harshest critics.  

But at times he could be temperamental, often getting into arguments with opponents and referees. He was still around when Bulgaria qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France. But Bulgaria was a side in transition and failed to progress beyond the first round. Stoichkov had a forgettable World Cup as well but he still remains one of all time great players of World Cup.