What do you think of your team’s group?
It’s a very tricky group. Italy have many world-class players and have to be favourites. Sweden are very well-organised and solid, and we haven’t beaten them for 30 years. As for Denmark, they got the better of us in the qualifying stages of the 2002 World Cup. We’ll be the underdogs in every game and that may help us.
Who are your key players?
I will not be revealing any secrets when I point to Stilian Petrov in midfield and striker Dimitar Berbatov. Petrov is a very gifted creator and has done a good job as captain, while Berbatov is maturing into a top-class finisher. Fortunately, they are not the only talents I can call on.
Who will win the tournament?
The Czechs, France, Italy, Spain and England seem very capable. France would be my favourites. They could field three or four very competitive XIs and I don’t see them repeating their under-par performances at the 2002 World Cup. A French win would please me. I have a great affection for their country and football after playing and coaching there for a few years.
Who will be the surprises?
Bulgaria, I hope.
What are your objectives for Euro 2004?
I’m not the sort to make bold predictions. I’d rather be a realist. We are only a small football nation and have not been at a finals tournament since France 98. We will do our best.
What are Bulgaria’s strengths?
The many young and talented players within the squad. They can only get better and they have lots of desire to impose themselves on the international stage. Also important to us is the great spirit in the camp. There are no clans. Everybody has the same aim.
What was your first priority on taking over the Bulgarian side in December 2001?
The team had just lost 6-0 in Prague to the Czechs [in a World Cup qualifier] and obviously the most pressing matter was to rebuild confidence. A goalless draw in Croatia in my first game as head coach was a timely boost, and so was a home draw with Germany at the start of last season. Self-belief was restored and we were in much better shape for the Euro 2004 qualifiers.
How would you compare the present Bulgarian side with the one that played at the 1994 World Cup?
I don’t think it’s possible to compare teams from different times. In 1994, the Bulgarian side made history [they finished fourth, their best-ever placing]. We can only aspire to emulating such a great achievement.
Is it true that you take your players to the theatre before matches?
We like to prepare for a match by going to the theatre or cinema. It’s a good way to bond and forget the pressures.
How are your relations with the media?
Criticism is inevitable. You can never please everyone. What’s vital is to have the courage of your convictions.
Should clubs be paid when their players appear for national teams?
This is a political question I ought to avoid.