By: Boyan Chulkov

The Bulgarian men’s national team hasn’t had much success in the recent years…and decades. In fact, not since the 50’s and 60’s of last century has Bulgaria really been competitive. In 1959 Bulgaria made its only appearance in the World Championships and finished in seventh place. At the European Championships in 1957 in Sofia the team won the silver medal after losing 57-60 to USSR in the final. Then, four years later at EuroBasket 1961 in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria grabbed the bronze after losing again to USSR in the semifinals and then beating France 55-46 in the battle for third place. Bulgaria also has 4 appearances in the Olympic Games (1952, 1956, 1960, 1968) with their best result being fifth place in 1956 in Melbourne.

So with that success long behind them, the Bulgarian team will make its 24th appearance in the European Championships in  a few weeks. Besides the silver (1957) and bronze (1961) medals, the team has finished three times in fourth place. The team took part in EuroBasket 2009 in Poland but recorded three losses. Before that, Bulgaria participated in EuroBasket 2005 in Serbia and Montenegro. The results weren’t any better; they also lost all three games in the group phase under Coach Rosen Barchovski, the man who still take the Bulgarian side into battle once more in 2011.

It’s been a while since they’ve won. Twenty-two years, even. The last Bulgarian victory in the European Championships came all the way back in 1989 in Yugoslavia where the team beat the Netherlands 91-86 for seventh place.

The Bulgarian team is perhaps most dangerous in 3-point shooting. Given that longtime leader Todor Stoykov is not part of the team anymore, the star player of Bulgaria now is the experienced 31-year old guard, Filip Videnov (Asseco Prokom Gdynia). He is a great shooter and he can do some real damage when he’s on fire.

Point guard Earl Rowland who recently joined Unicaja Málaga is another player who can score and make shots from deep. The American with Bulgarian citizenship was included in the squad for Eurobasket 2009 and led all Bulgaria players at Eurobasket 2009 in minutes played, while averaging 17.7 points per game. Twins Deyan Ivanov (Premiata Montegranaro) and Kaloyan Ivanov (last played for Cajasol) are powerful forwards who also are capable of finding the bottom of the net from long range. The twins are important players for the team and if they play consistently Bulgaria could make things more difficult for the opponents.

There are also some young and talented players in the Bulgarian team like Bozhidar Avramov, Alexander Yanev, Chavdar Kostov and Ivan Lilov. They are probably the future of the team, and Avramov particularly has the potential to be a long-term leading player for the team.

While Bulgaria has some good shooters, they are vulnerable under the basket. Moreover, one of the most experienced players in the team – center Stefan Georgiev, suffered a knee injury in a friendly game in August and will miss the tournament entirely, dealing a huge blow to an already thin front line.

What can be expected from Bulgaria in Eurobasket 2011? Well, Bulgaria lost 51-88 to Russia in a preseason game in August and the two teams are in the same group in Lithuania. It will take a really massive performance from the Bulgarians to upset firm favorites in Group D, Russia and Slovenia. But I think Bulgaria has every chance to beat each of the other three teams in the group—Belgium, Georgia and Ukraine—and this could be enough to qualify for the next phase. But if Bulgaria wants to sneak into the second phase, the team should focus defensively and effectively shoot the ball.

And while reaching the quarterfinals seems like a very tough task, a potential third place in the final standings in Group D is definitely achievable.

Boyan Chulkov is a Bulgarian sportswriter for www.sportal.bg and the authority on Bulgarian hoops.