Lokomotiv Plovdiv: The View From Bulgaria & Things to Know About Tottenham's Europa League Opponents

Following their mucky performance in their Premier League opener against Everton, Tottenham travel to Bulgaria to face Lokomotiv Plovdiv in a Europa League second round qualifier on Thursday.

Now, if you don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bulgarian side already, shame on you. You're weak. You're outta control. And you've become an embarrassment to yourself and everybody else.

Nah, just kiddin', we won't take judgement like Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos. In fact, we've been in touch with Vladimir Ivanov, a journalist who works for Bulgarian newspaper Trud, and he's given us the lowdown for what Tottenham fans can expect on Thursday.

Here's all you need to know about Spurs' upcoming opponents.

The View From Bulgaria

How Have Lokomotiv Performed So Far This Season?

Vladimir: They won the Supercup this summer - 1-0 against Ludogorets, who were nine-time champions in a row here. Loko won away at the Ludogorets Stadium with a goal from Dimitar Iliev. After that, they lost the big derby with Botev Plovdiv but three days before the game they were on the beach for a little vacation. Maybe it was good for the spirit of the team.

This weekend they lost 3-1 to Ludogorets. They played with their best XI, not with reserves, but allowed goals in final 11 minutes. I think they will play better at the end in European matches.

What Are Their Strengths and Weaknesses?

Vladimir: Their strengths are in tournament matches. Their last defeat in the Bulgarian Cup was in October 2017. The coach is now Bruno Akrapovic. The fans were against him in the first months and they wanted him to be sacked. But then Loko won the cup against Botev – their biggest rivals who were favourites in the final.

I think their biggest strength is that they are a united group. They also play very well in defence. But I think they don't have enough experience in big matches in Europe and also Loko's 12th man is the fans. They are amazing. But now the stadium will be empty. The fans in town, the oldest in Europe, still believe that Lokomotiv can win.

I also don't like their forward Ante Aralica. But I think he is the favourite player of the coach. Aralica is not good enough when he is one on one with the goalkeeper, for example. But maybe because of him Dimitar Iliev will have more space and situations.

What Can You Tell Us About Birsent Karagaren and Dimitar Iliev? Are They Lokomotiv's Biggest Threats?

Vladimir: Yes and also no. They are good players and also leaders, but the biggest threat is how Lokomotiv can play as a team. The players and the coach [Akrapovic] have a very good relationship. With this coach, Loko have won two Bulgarian Cups in a row for the first time in the club's history. Iliev can score when the game is not going well. For example, that happened in the Lokomotiv Plovdiv-Litex match in the cup, when the result was 1-0 for the second tier team 15 minutes before the end. And then he scored twice. Iliev also won the best player award for 2019 in Bulgaria.

Karagaren is also big threat but his performances for the Bulgaria national team against the Republic of Ireland and Wales were quiet. He has good technical qualities suited to the Bulgarian First League. Maybe Loko will sell Karagaren after Europa League matches. There is interest from Turkey for him. I think Parvizdzhon Umarbaev is an interesting player too.

Basic Info

Lokomotiv have a couple of cracking nicknames, one being Смърфовете and the other being Железничарите. The first translates to 'the Smurfs' and the second 'the Railwaymen'.

The 'Smurfs' nickname comes from the 1990s. They played with numbers on their shirts which were tricky to see from the stands, and one television commentator asked how long they'd continue to play in that particular kit. Apparently, their co-commentator quipped: “We are like smurfs - we are all the same."

They finished second in the First Professional Football League last season, qualifying for the Championship round, where they ended up fifth out of six teams.

Lokomotiv qualified for the Europa League first qualifying round by winning the 2019/20 Bulgarian Cup, besting CSKA Sofia on 5-3 on penalties after a goalless draw back in July. They progressed to the second qualifying round by beating Montenegrin outfit Iskra Danilovgrad in late August.

In terms of honours, they've won the top flight league once - back in 2003/04 - and the Bulgarian Cup and Bulgarian Supercup twice each.

Lokomotiv play at Stadion Lokomotiv, a ground with a capacity of just over 13,000 fans - though none will be in attendance on Thursday - and was opened in 1982.

Record in Europe

If there are any Bolton fans reading, they'll know their side met Lokomotiv in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup first round. The Wanderers won that tie 4-2 over two legs, with heroes like El Hadji Diouf, Jared Borgetti and Kevin Nolan scoring.

They have previously played esteemed teams like Juventus, PAOK and Lazio, but their record in continental football stands at 31 games played, eight matches won and 20 lost.

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Source : 90min