SOFIA, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's Olympic volleyball team
have triumphed in adversity to spark feverish celebrations in
the Balkan country and revive memories of a golden moment from
their sporting past.
Bulgaria outclassed Germany 3-0 in the men's quarter-finals
at Earls Court on Wednesday, prompting wild celebrations among
fans at home.
Their success was not anticipated after the Bulgarian camp
was plunged into turmoil in the lead up to the London Games when
the coach and two leading players quit less than two months
before the start of the competition.
"Fantastic! I can't find words to describe how I feel. If we
continue to play like this, we'll win the gold," said delighted
fan Ivo Dimitrov, who was already turning his attention to
Bulgaria's next game - a clash with three-times Olympic
In reaching the semis, coach Nayden Naydenov's team have
rekindled memories of the 1994 soccer World Cup in the United
States when Bulgaria reached the last four.
"I'm so happy," another fan Milena Mincheva said. "It
reminds me of the emotions of that memorable summer in 1994. I'm
feeling a sense of deja vu as we did it against the Germans in
the quarter-finals once again."
Rank outsiders Bulgaria knocked Germany out of World Cup in
1994 when they sensationally pulled back two late goals in three
minutes to beat the reigning champions 2-1.
Reaching the last four of the Olympic volleyball tournament
alongside established teams like Brazil, Italy and Russia is the
eastern European country's biggest team success in years.
Volleyball cannot match the financial rewards on offer in
soccer, or even basketball, but the national team's recent
success has generated huge interest among Bulgarians craving any
sporting victory to boost national pride.
Bulgaria's volleyball team now attracts bigger crowds than
top division soccer clubs with fans creating a carnival
atmosphere at the 12,300-capacity Armeets Arena in Sofia.
Bulgaria won the silver medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics,
but their preparations for these Games were thrown into
Coach Radostin Stoychev and best spiker Matey Kaziyski quit
the day after they qualified for the Games, citing interference
from the national federation.
A few days later, experienced setter Andrey Zhekov joined
the duo of absentees by announcing he would not compete in
The situation, however, seems to have inspired rather than
discouraged the team.
"I don't think chaos helps anyone but it's part of our
national characteristic, in a moment of difficulty we show our
best," captain Vladimir Nikolov told reporters in London after
their 3-1 win over Poland.
Russia beat Bulgaria 3-1 in last year's European
championship quarter-finals, but the Bulgarians are brimful of
optimism, having enjoyed some convincing wins in London so far.
"Nobody can stop us," said Bulgarian President Rosen
Plevneliev, who supported his compatriots from the stands in the
game against Germany.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing
by Toby Davis)