World Cup One-Hit Wonders: When Letchkov Made Germany Cry

“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Former British footballer Gary Lineker, the author of this famous quote, is almost always right. Almost. Because during World Cup 1994, the incumbent World Champions were eliminated by a Bulgarian. Yes, a Bulgarian.

Yordan Letchkov scored the goal by which the best Bulgarian selection ever seen sent Germany off, and qualified for the Semi Finals. As a consequence of his effort, Letchkov instantly became one of the most famous football players in the world. That Bulgaria side could feature players such as Krasimir Balakov and Hristo Stoitchkov, yet their most unexpected wonder turned out to be that balding midfielder playing with Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga.

Bulgaria’s run ended in the Semi Finals against Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy. A fantastic brace by Roberto Baggio forced the Bulgarians to bid farewell to their dream. Letchkov and his teammates, probably happy with wait they had achieved already, were eventually thrashed by Sweden in a Third Place Playoff.

Yordan continued to play in Hamburg until 1996, then moved to Marseille. One year later, he landed in Turkey and joined Besiktas. At the end of the season, he stopped playing for three years. He eventually came back to his native Bulgaria, and had some additional stints with CSKA Sofia and Sliven, before ultimately calling it quit in 2004.

The Bulgarian selection seen in 1994 in the U.S.A. earned a place in football fans collective memory. A team rich of talent, they managed to make Bulgarian football popular even across the ocean. Letchkov’s header is likely the highest point ever reached in football by Bulgaria. The balding striker from Sliven showed that, once in a while, the Germans could be beaten in a World Cup.

Even if you are not that famous. But yes, you can, as long as you know how to use your head. Just like in that sunny afternoon of July 10, 1994 at the Giants Stadium in New York, when Yordan Letchkov, the unexpected goalscorer, netted a goal that consigned him to the history of Bulgarian football.