YNWA looks back at our three previous visits to the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia as Liverpool visit Bulgaria on Wednesday for the fourth time, in the Champions League third qualifying round.
We made our first trip to Bulgaria after being held to a draw by West Ham United in the League Cup Final at Wembley four days earlier. We secured a 1-0 victory over CSKA Sofia, conquerors of holders Nottingham Forest in the first round, thanks to David Johnson’s tenth minute goal. Ray Clemence saved a penalty from Plamen Markov late on after a Jimmy Case foul, as we progressed to the Semi-final 6-1 on aggregate, where we faced Bayern München. The night was one of mixed fortunes for our scorer, as Johnson pulled a hamstring, and had to be replaced by Steve Heighway before half time.
We met CSKA Sofia for the second successive season, returning to Bulgaria for the second leg just four days after beating Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Final at Wembley. We only had a one goal lead from the first match, and were denied a second-minute goal in Sofia despite Ian Rush’s header appearing to cross the line, and also had two penalty appeals turned down. With a little over ten minutes remaining, Bruce Grobbelaar was caught in two minds about coming out for a ball, and Stoycho Mladenov nodded into an empty net.
The game went into extra time, and a deflected Mladenov shot evaded a host of reds defenders on the line to put CSKA ahead on aggregate. There was still time for both Ronnie Whelan and Mark Lawrenson to hit the woodwork, and Lawrenson was also sent off for retaliation, our first dismissal in European competition. However, it was not to be, although the Bulgarian outfit lost in the next round, to Bayern München.
Our most recent visit to Bulgaria came in the UEFA Cup Third Round against PFC Levski Sofia. Sami Hyypiä played his 250th reds game, scoring our final goal as we won 4-2. This was our fiftieth European match since Gérard Houllier took sole charge. Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Dietmar Hamann also netted as we progressed 6-2 on aggregate.