Bulgarian football fairy tale: Ludogorets in the Champions League

One of European football’s most unforgettable games took place in Sofia on Wednesday. The seemingly uninteresting second leg match between Romanian powerhouse Steaua Bucharest and Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad was to decide which of the two teams would enter the group stage of the Champions League, the world’s most lucrative club competition.

With the Romanians leading 1-0 from the first game in Bucharest, it was expected that Ludogorets would have a hard time making it through. Indeed, the game was nearing its goalless end when, in the 89th minute, a sensational volley by Ludogorets player Wanderson made the score 1-0 and sent the tie into extra time.

Ludogorets Arena in Razgrad, the club's home stadium

Ludogorets Arena in Razgrad, the club’s home stadium. Photo credit: Tsonpen, Wikipedia.

It seemed that extra time wouldn’t decide the winner either, as by the 118th minute there were no additional goals. Then, a clever pass opened space for a Steaua forward to face Bulgarian keeper Stoyanov one on one. Stoyanov fouled the Steaua player outside the box and was sent off. With no substitutions remaining, this meant that an outfield player had to be in goal for Ludogorets till the end of extra time and for the penalty shootout.

Enter Ludogorets defender Cosmin Moți, himself a Romanian… and what’s more, ex-captain of Steaua’s eternal rivals, Dinamo Bucharest. Moți took the place of the keeper in goal and survived till the end of extra time. During the penalty shootout, Moți opened the scoring by converting the first penalty. Then, he secured a memorable Ludogorets victory by saving two penalties, all this despite never having played as a goalkeeper ever before. Truly a Disney movie story in the making and perhaps one of Bulgaria’s most incredible sports achievements!

By qualifying for the Champions League, Ludogorets secured upwards of 8 million euro of prize money. On Thursday, they were drawn in a group with legendary European clubs Real Madrid (ten-time champions) and Liverpool (five-time champions) as well as strong Swiss team FC Basel.

So if you’re in Sofia on 1 October or 26 November this year, don’t miss the chance to see Ludogorets face Real Madrid or Liverpool at the National Stadium and see superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli, Gareth Bale, Steven Gerrard and James Rodríguez live.

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