It was 26 years ago today that two future Aberdeen players starred in the World Cup semi-finals in front of a global television audience of billions.
Bulgarians Tsanko Tsvetanov and Iliyan Kiryakov both started in the 2-1 loss to Italy in the World Cup semi in the United States on July 13, 1994.
The Bulgarians had shocked Germany 2-1 in the quarter-final and also dumped Argentina 2-0 in the Group stages.
Tsvetanov believes Bulgaria, boasting legendary Barcelona attacker Hristo Stoichkov, were powerful enough to go all the way to lift the World Cup.
Speaking to the Evening Express from his home in Sofia, Bulgaria, Tsvetanov, 50, said: “Playing in the World Cup semi final was the top of my career.
“In 1994, Bulgaria were strong enough to win the World Cup.
“When football was in lockdown they showed those World Cup games again on television in Bulgaria and I watched them.
“Honestly, we had a real chance to win the tournament then.
“Bulgaria are a small country like Scotland and never had great success before that World Cup.
“However, in 1994, we had such a fantastic side.”
Prior to 1994, Bulgaria had qualified for the World Cup on five previous occasions, but had yet to win a match in 16 attempts.
The omens for the finals in the United States were not positive following a heavy 3-0 loss to Nigeria in the Group D opener.
In the next game Bulgaria announced their presence in the tournament by overcoming Greece 4-0 in Chicago.
Bulgaria secured their passage to the knock-out stages by defeating Argentina in the final Group D game.
It was an Argentinean side without controversial legend Diego Maradona, who had earlier tested positive for ephedrine – a stimulant banned by FIFA – and been sent home.
Regardless of Maradona’s absence, Argentina were still formidable with talent such as Diego Simeone, Gabriel Batistuta, Oscar Ruggeri, Fernando Redondo and Claudio Caniggia.
Tsvetanov started against Argentina with future Dons team-mate Kiryakov introduced as a second half substitute.
Tsvetanov was sent off in the second half against the Argentinians for a second yellow and served a one-game suspension for the last-16 clash with Mexico.
Kiryakov started in the last-16 clash against the Mexicans, where Bulgaria triumphed 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Next up were reigning World Cup champions Germany in the quarters, with Tsvetanov straight back into the starting line-up following his suspension.
Germany went ahead early in the second half via a converted penalty from Lothar Mattheus.
Bulgaria produced a remarkable fightback with Stoichkov equalising in the 75th minute.
Just three minutes later Yordan Letchkov scored a winner.
Tsvetanov said: “We started badly in the World Cup against Nigeria in terms of the result but still played good football.
“After that we beat Greece and began to believe we could really do something in the World Cup.
“We played fantastic football against Greece, Argentina, Mexico and then Germany to reach the semi-finals.”
Bulgaria’s World Cup dream ended on July 13, 1994 when a double from Roberto Baggio put Italy 2-0 ahead in the semi.
Stoichkov converted a penalty, but Italy held on.
The Italians would go on to lose 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out to Brazil in the final following a 0-0 draw,
Tsvetanov and Kiryakov both started in the third-placed play off, losing 4-0 to Sweden.
He said: “I got a bronze medal for reaching the semi-final.
“We had a fantastic team and maybe we could have got to the final and won it..”
Tsvetanov signed on at Pittodrie for £500,000 just two years after the World Cup.
Kiryakov also joined in 1996.
He said: “I am still in contact with Iliyan who is working as an assistant manager.”
In 2003, Tsvetanov retired from playing and embarked on a successful coaching spell.
As assistant to Stanimir Stoilov at Astana, they won four Kazakh titles and reached the group stages of the Champions League.
Tsvetanov was most recently the No.2 to Stoilov at the Kazakhstan national team until January last year, just months before they shocked Scotland 3-0 in a Euro 2020 qualifier.
He said: “I wasn’t that surprised by the result because Scotland underestimated Kazakhstan.
“Okay, Kazakhstan are not the greatest team in the world, but they are not bad.
“The distance between Kazakhstan and Scotland is not too big.
“You have to remember the games between Celtic and Astana, which was not so easy for Celtic.
“Kazakhstan football has improved and Aberdeen were also knocked out of Europe by Kairat.
“If Scotland take seriously Kazakhstan, they are going to win because they are better.
“However, if they underestimate them, then they lose.”