The World Cup has always created and cemented legendary status, and one of its most iconic players, Hristo Stoichkov has been discussing his fond memories of the competition, and his thoughts on who will potentially achieve ultimate glory on the global stage.
Who do you think will be one of the best teams at the next FIFA World Cup in Qatar?
The history of our sport has shown us that there are always two or three teams which are different from the others. For example, there are two South American teams that make the difference: Argentina and Brazil.
However, I can also include another team: Uruguay. Uruguay has a very good team, they have players playing in Europe. Ecuador performed very well in the qualifiers.
Let’s see what happens with them. Argentina and Brazil are usually seen as favourites to progress in the tournament. In Europe, I will obviously mention Spain, because they have an amazing coach.
I know Luis Enrique quite well, I know how he works and I know he is a cool-headed coach who chooses the best team and the best players for every match. Spain are one of the favourites for this World Cup. They have a really good team. However, we can’t forget England, who also have a great coach, a young team and a clear idea. I would include France because Didier Deschamps is one of those people who have won a World Cup both as a player and as a coach. I know France is a very competitive team, unluckily two of their essential players…
Then, also Germany. Germany are always among the favourites.
Hansi Flick knows his team perfectly and he also worked for Bayern Munich, so he knows all about German football philosophy.
In my opinion, they’ve got a really good team, great young, but mature, players and also some veterans: [Thomas] Müller, Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper [Manuel Neuer], [León] Goretzka… I mean they have so many good players, that I even forget some of them.
So, Germany are also among the favourites. That means that three or four European teams will be fighting against two or three South Americans. It will be a fantastic World Cup. Based on my experience, I think everything will be possible in Qatar.
What memories do you hold from previous FIFA World Cups?
For me it was the 1978 World Cup which Argentina won. I focused on the left-footed genius, Mario Kempes. He also won the World Cup Golden Boot at home.
The first image that comes to mind of that World Cup in ‘78 is the final between Argentina and the Netherlands:
Rensenbrink’s shot coming back off the post; then Kempes scores Argentina’s second and they go on to win the game. That’s the first World Cup that comes to mind, and the first time of how exciting a World Cup game could be.
For me, it was the moment I put on the [national team] shirt and heard the national anthem, it sunk in that I was representing my country.
I couldn’t ask for anything more, as your first time is always your first time. The first time you hear your national anthem, man, that’s when you think I’ve made it. There’s no looking back, I have to look forwards; what do I have to do, what do I have to improve on so that everyone is talking about me or my country or my teammates?
Obviously, 1994 was the culmination of all this: hearing my name being chanted and my teammates being applauded at every stadium.
I felt like a kid who was living their dream. So, that’s why I say that, for us, as a small country, 1994 will live long in the memory: we reached the semi-finals, knocking out a lot of teams; as well as one more important thing, a World Cup Golden Boot winner.
What are you looking forward to most about this upcoming World Cup?
This World Cup will be one of the best in ages. Some people don’t like the fact that we’re playing in November and December, but it’s the case due to weather conditions and we sometimes must change certain things.
I don’t think this will affect the players at all. On the contrary, they will be fresher because they’re currently playing games. They play around 15 matches and then the World Cup begins.
It’s completely different from the situation in which you play around 70 matches during a season, you end the league and then, you play the World Cup for a month. That’s completely different.
I think this World Cup will be very different and people will enjoy it a lot. I’ve been to Qatar three times, it’s a small country and I wondered how they would host a World Cup. I honestly think that this World Cup will be amazing with the stadiums, the people…
To explore more of the World Cup, visit the archive on FIFA+