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Levski Sofia

Ground: Stadion Georgi Asparuhov

Visits: 1

Date: 20th July 2017

Match: Levski Sofia - Hajduk Split  1-2  (UEFA Europa League, qualifying)

Attendance: 0

Last year I went to Macedonia and Croatia, both new countries, during the 2nd qualifying rounds of the Champions- and Europa League. This year I looked at Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria. Once the draw was made I was waiting for league fixtures to be published before deciding where to go. In the end I decided for Bulgaria, one Europe League game in combination with three league games. First up was Levski Sofia v Hajduk Split at Stadion Georgi Asparuhov. Unfortunately it turned out that game, due to racist chanting last year v Maribor, was to be played behind closed doors. Disappointing news  but I decided to ask Levski Sofia for an accreditation (I do have a website!) and the response was positive. Kick-off was at 20.00 (19.00 CET) meaning this was to be a long day for me. My alarm buzzed at 05.00 and two hours later I was at Copenhagen airport. My route was to fly with Air Serbia, via Belgrade, to Sofia. The flight was supposed to depart at 09.35 but it was not until 10.35 we left Copenhagen. Having 1h 50min between the flights I would still make the Sofia flight but once I found the gate they had already started to do boarding so I had to skip lunch. The flight to Sofia was on time though and 15.30 I arrived at Sofia airport.

From the airport I used the metro to get to the metro station next to the National Stadium, Vasil Levski. My hotel was then only a 10-12 minute walk away. There is no metro station at Stadion Georgi Asparuhov but Trolleybus 1 runs directly from outside my hotel to the ground. At 17.55 I boarded the trolleybus and 20 minutes later I was outside the ground. Levski Sofia had arranged for a big screen to show the game. This screen was behind the West Stand and as I arrived I was overwhelmed by the number of riot police deployed for this game. I have been to high-risk games in England and Germany with a less number of police. Finding the media entrance was quite difficult. I asked the stewards at the VIP-entrance and was told it was not there. Eventually I found someone who knew where it was (and could speak English) and I had to go to the other side. Passing several security checks I eventually found the media entrance. Only problem was I only had the e-mail confirming the accreditation and not the actual press pass for this game. I asked where to pick it up but the guys at the entrance couldn´t speak English and only said NO to everything. It was obvious they wouldn´t let me through without a physical press pass and I feared I was not going to be at the game after all. Eventually someone who could speak English came and followed me to the press officer who gave me the card I needed to enter. An hour before kick-off I was finally inside the ground!

Levski Sofia was founded in 1914 by a group of students and is named after Vasil Levski, a Bulgarian revolutionary renowned as the national hero of Bulgaria. The club has won 26 league titles, the latest in 2009. Stadion Georgi Asparuhov was opened in 1963 and once had a capacity of 60 000. To modernize the stadium several renovations have been done and after the new West Stand opened in 2016 the official capacity is 25 000. The actual press box is located in the east stand and behind glass and in there it was very hot. I decided to stay outside where I could find some shadow. Once the game got underway 90% of those with an accreditation sat outside the press box. Even though no fans were allowed it was still possible to hear chants and songs from the Levski fans behind the west stand. Hajduk Split won the first leg 2-1 and in Sofia it was 0-0 at half-time. There were quite a few sitting outside the press box and during half-time we were all asked to, once again, show our passes. No problems for me this time around. In the 69th minute Levski made it 1-0 but two late goals for Hajduk made sure the Croats went through to the next round, 4-2 on aggregate. It was of course disappointing no fans were allowed inside but my visit to Stadion Georgi Asparuhov meant I have now seen football in 39 countries. Three more games to come on this trip though.

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Rear of the West Stand

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Rear of the West Stand

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Rear of the East Stand

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Rear of the East Stand

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South Stand

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West Stand

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North Stand

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East Stand

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East Stand

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Teams and officials entering

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Kick-off

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View of play

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View of play

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West Stand

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VIP-fans

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North Stand

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Stadion Georgi Asparuhov under floodlights

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Rear of the North Stand at night

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Pano

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Pano

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Pano