Valeri Bojinov spoke of his affection for Malta on his arrival here as a member of the Bulgaria national team contingent who yesterday began their final preparations for tomorrow's World Cup Group Eight qualifier at the National Stadium.
The Bulgarian squad is led by national coach Hristo Stoichkov who refused to give any comments when approached by the media present at the Malta International Airport.
Missing from the Bulgarian contingent are midfielder Stilian Petrov, who is suspended for tomorrow's match after earning his second yellow card in the 2-0 home win over Hungary on Saturday, and goalkeeper Georgi Petkov who picked up an injury.
The Times managed to get a few comments from Bojinov, the exciting Bulgarian forward who had a short spell in Maltese football with the youth team of Premier League club Pietà Hotspurs before moving to Italy where he joined Lecce. Last season, Bojinov sealed a lucrative move to Serie A club Fiorentina.
"My experience in Malta was a crucial step in my career," Bojinov, 19, said yesterday.
"Although I was here for a short period of time, it was after I played some games for Pietà Hotspurs that I was invited to go to Lecce in Italy.
"In Malta, I met some great persons, especially Edward Schembri, the president of Pietà Hotspurs, who treated me with great respect and helped me fulfil my ambition of playing in one of the best leagues in the world."
Bulgaria are currently third in Group Eight with only 14 points from nine matches and have no chance of reaching the World Cup finals in Germany next year as Croatia and Sweden occupy the top two spots in the group.
Tomorrow's match, however, represents a good opportunity for fringe players such as Bojinov to stake a claim for a regular place in the national team.
"The match has little significance for us as we are out of contention for a place in the World Cup. But, Bulgaria want to finish off with a good win," Bojinov said.
"Malta are certainly going to be difficult opponents for us as they showed when holding Croatia to a draw. However, our only aim is to gain a win here.
"On a personal note, I hope to be given a chance to play a part in this match. After Euro 2004, I struggled to keep my place in the squad but now I'm close to returning to my best form. Hopefully, this match against Malta will give my international career a boost."
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Justin Haber and Luke Dimech, the only foreign-based players in the Malta squad, linked up with their international team-mates yesterday.
Malta coach Horst Heese is yet to finalise his 18-man squad as he wants to assess the conditions of his injured players this morning.
Skipper Gilbert Agius had been ruled out of the match with a knee injury but it emerged yesterday that the Valletta talisman is recovering rapidly and could gain a slot in the final list.
Sliema Wanderers' left-sided midfielder Claude Mattocks is definitely out of the frame but his club-mate Orosco Anonam is ranked doubtful. Midfielder Kevin Sammut will miss tomorrow's match with suspension.
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