90 CAPS 20 GOALS
European Championships: 1 (EURO 2004)
Best Stage Reached: GROUP STAGES
Tournament Appearances: 3
Tournament Goals: 1
Having grown up watching boyhood hero Hristo Stoichkov lead unfancied Bulgaria to a fourth-placed finish at the 1994 World Cup, as well as qualify for Euro 1996 and the 1998 World Cup, Martin Petrov’s international emergence coincided with his idol’s retirement and his nation’s decline.
One of Bulgaria’s modern day heroes alongside Dimitar Berbatov and Stiliyan Petrov, the winger burst onto the scene back in the mid-nineties with local side Botev Vratsa, before signing for CSKA Sofia in 1996 and Swiss side Servette in 1998 when still a teenager.
Handed his international debut alongside his idol as Stoichkov made his final appearance for Bulgaria the following year, Petrov came on as a half-time substitute in a Euro 2000 qualifier at home to England as he returned to Sofia’s Balgarska Armia Stadium for the first time since leaving the club.
However, it proved to be a day to forget for the midfielder as he was dismissed for two bookable offences within ten minutes of taking to the field.
Cementing his place with the national side during their unsuccessful attempts to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, Petrov scored his first international goal in a friendly against Algeria, before netting a brace for his first competitive strikes in a 4-3 qualifying victory over Northern Ireland.
Moving to VfL Wolfsburg in June 2001, he continued to impress in the Bundesliga while also shining in Bulgaria’s Euro 2004 qualification campaign.
Scoring once in a victory over Estonia, Petrov was a key member of the side that qualified automatically for the finals in Portugal ahead of Belgium and Croatia, losing just one of their qualifiers along the way.
Heading into their first major tournament appearance since the 1998 World Cup, underdogs Bulgaria were drawn in a group alongside Denmark, Italy and Sweden, with the odds firmly stacked against them progressing.
Sadly it proved to be a tournament to forget for the Bulgarians as they unsurprisingly suffered a group-stage exit, with Petrov starting all three matches in what would prove to be his only major finals appearance.
Falling to a disastrous 5-0 defeat in their opening match against Sweden, their premature exit was confirmed by a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Denmark in the second match.
Petrov did manage to score Bulgaria’s only goal of the tournament in their final match against Italy however, but his penalty on the stroke of half-time to give them the lead was not enough to earn them a first point – Antonio Cassano sealing a 2-1 victory for the Italians in the 94th minute.
Moving to La Liga side Atletico Madrid in August 2005, the midfielder scored three times as Bulgaria were again unsuccessful in their attempts to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
However, his efforts saw him rewarded as he held off competition from Berbatov and namesake Stiliyan to be named Bulgarian Footballer of the Year.
One of the leading goalscorers in Euro 2008 qualification, Petrov hit six goals as they narrowly missed out on a place in the finals – finishing a point behind group runners-up the Netherlands.
Now on the books of Manchester City, he missed out on qualifying for the 2010 World Cup for a third time after scoring twice in qualification, before joining Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer in June 2010.
A member of the Whites side that reached the FA Cup semi-finals before suffering relegation, Petrov also endured an underwhelming end to his international career as Bulgaria failed to qualify for Euro 2012, winning his finals caps as they finished bottom of their group having won just once.
Returning to Spain with Espanyol in January 2013, Petrov re-joined former club CSKA Sofia in October 2013 as he finished his career with one final season back in his homeland, cementing his place further as one of Bulgarian football’s favourite sons.