Levski Sofia v CSKA Sofia
Bulgarian First League (Matchday 22)
Sunday 6th March 2022 – 2pm
Vasil Levski Stadium
The ubiquitous presence of these two is everywhere in Bulgarian football so much so the influence is felt far outside of the capital.
Make no mistake these two clubs play each other a lot, both in the league set up and in the domestic Bulgarian cup tournament; the fixture sells and it is the biggest game in Bulgarian football. In fact they play each other just as many times as Celtic play Rangers thanks to the demands of the media and presence of betting company league sponsors.
However, unlike in Scotland neither CSKA Sofia or Levski Sofia currently dominate either the domestic or European scene.
Ludogorets Razgrad are now the forerunner in Bulgarian football.
Indeed, CSKA nor Levski have claimed a title since 2009 and even those championship wins are buffeted between two titles that were claimed by Litex Lovech at the start of the decade.
While more modern history is green and white (the colours of Ludogorets) the all-time landscape of Bulgarian football has always been dominated by the Sofia giants. CSKA Sofia have 31 titles while Levski fall just behind on 26 championship wins. Even with is 11th successive title in 2022 Ludogorets have some way to go before they get anywhere near CSKA or Levski in terms of success.
The 1986 Riot
Most derby matches reach a point of no return or a crisis point.
In Yugoslavia the Dinamo Zagreb v Red Star match was deeply embedded in politics and contributed to the commencement of the Balkan war. Likewise a hatred between the Sofia giants reached a climax in 1985 during the period of communist rule.
That season’s Bulgarian Cup final held at the National Stadium saw numerous disputable referee decisions that both clubs disagreed with. Both teams and fans demonstrated uncontrolled emotions which resulted in fighting between both sets of players (many of whom were established international players) as well as repeated attacks on the referee.
Large scale violence occured in the stands between the supporters in front of the ruling communist party committee members.
The hardline Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party under Todor Hristov Zhivkov took a harsh view of the proceedings and some of the leading players – both from Levski and CSKA – were suspended from football for life including Hristo Stoichkov. However, one year after the suspensions, and with the popularity of the BCP (Bulgarian Communist Party) waning and the Bulgarian team aboiut to visit Mexico for the 1986 World Cup, the suspensions were recinded.
On top of the suspensions both clubs were renamed due to the harsh view the communist government took of the riot. Levski Sofia was renamed to Vitosha, while CSKA was renamed to Sredets.
It was not until 1989 the original club names were restored largely thanks to the downfall of Zhivkov.
Cold, Snowy and Wet
You would perhaps think with the incoming of spring this fixture might have been played in brighter calmer conditions. Sadly, you’d have been wrong to expect anything remotely resembling spring time.
The Bulgarian capital in early March is a cold place and temperatures seldom rise above 8c – 10c.
However, on the Saturday before the match there was very little indication or even a sign of the snowfall that visitors to the derby would awaken to on the Sunday morning.
Despite being Levski’s home match the game was played at the national stadium ‘Vasil Levski’ – a stadium named after a revolutionary republican hero. This choice of venue locality is common for the derby but it is curious in that the national stadium sits adjacent to the CSKA Army Stadium home of the visiting team.
While the field was green before kick off the players warmed up in what can only be described as foreboding skies that sat overhead. It was dark, grey and cold and by the time the referee started proceedings it looked like the game could be abandoned after a few minutes – such was the state of the pitch.
Staggeringly the Brazilian CSKA Sofia goalkeeper started the game in an all white kit.
That colour clash was in contrast to the tifo displays that both sets of fans rolled out at the start of the game. CSKA with a large scale flag display after 10 minutes and Levski with a pyrotechnic show of smoke bombs and firecrackers at kick off.
With almost 15 minutes gone the referee took both teams off the pitch for the pitch lines (specifically the penalty areas) to be cleared. Supporters in both ends huddled together trying to keep warm – largely unsuccessfully. But as the pitch lines were cleared so the snow fell heavier and only the half-time whistle allowed a further clearing of the field.
The half-time break lasted 25 minutes before the referee decided to get going again but soon the bad tackles resumed on what was a tired and dangerous pitch. First, the Brazilian Wenderson of Levski was shown a second yellow and in the final minutes VAR signalled a straight red for the CSKA player Mazikou.
It ended 0-0 and in truth that result was a fair reflection of the 90 minutes.
The Sofia derby is one of those that is best seen during the autumn or spring months. The two play each other about 4 or 5 times a season and there is every chance the rivals will meet in the Bulgarian cup final such is the strength of the two come the season end.
Levski: Mihaylov, Sonko-Sundberg, Wenderson, Mihajlovic, Milanov, Kostadinov, Krastev, Cordoba, Bari, Kraev, Welton Felipe
CSKA: Busatto, Koch, Mattheij, Geferson, Mazikou, Tutitsov, Carey, Youga, Muhar, Yomov, Caicedo