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Spurs Odyssey Preview - Lokomotiv Plovdiv v Spurs, 17.09.20

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Spurs' record in Europe:-
The official crest of Tottenham Hotspur
U.E.F.A Champions League
 P  W   D   L   F - A
45 19   9  17  82 - 68

(Finalists 2019)
European Cup
P   W   D   L   F - A
8   4   1   3  21 - 13
(Semi-Finalists 1962)
European Cup Winners Cup
P   W   D   L   F - A
33  20  5   8  65 - 34
(Winners 1963)
UEFA Cup/Europa League
 P    W   D   L   F - A
140  78  36  26  276-121 
(Winners 1972, 1984
 Finalists 1974)
The club logo of Locomotiv Plovdiv
P    W   D   L   F - A
226 121 51  54  444-236

Believe it or not we really are playing "Smurfs"

I could not believe my eyes when I checked out the Lokomotiv Plovdiv Wikipedia page. According to that our opponents tomorrow really do go by the nickname of "Smurfs"!

According to this 90min article the "Smurfs" nickname began in the 90s when the team 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."

The name obviously stuck but the Bulgarians probably prefer to be known as "The Railwaymen", a more formal nickname heralding from the early years of the club when it was the club of local railway workers. Lokomotiv's home ground is the "Stadion Lokomotiv" situated in Lauta Park and has a capacity of 10,000 fans. Had we been allowed to travel, no more than 500 away fans would normally be accepted.

I am not aware of Spurs having played a Bulgarian team in a competitive game or even many connections between the club and Bulgaria. Famously, former Spur Dimitar Berbatov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and in his early years played for local club CSKA before being snapped up by Bayer Leverkusen early in 2001.

According to Evening Standard reporter Dan Kilpatrick, Lokomotiv Plovdiv owner claimed Spurs failed in an attempt to switch the Europa League qualifier to London on Sept 17. Hristo Krusharski said: "There were offers from Tottenham but we do not play for money, but for pleasure."

As you know, because of the constrained season and re-arrangement of fixtures, these Europa league qualifying matches including the play-off will be decided over one leg only. If we win tomorrow we have to travel away next week to either Romania or Macedonia.

Spurs have to take one step at a time though and Jose Mourinho is taking a strong squad to Bulgaria. He has already confirmed that Harry Kane will play. Giovani Lo Celso is available and the only definite absentee is Japhet Tanganga who is still recovering from his back injury. Serge Aurier took a knock in training, but should be available. I do expect there to be some changes from the team which disappointed against Everton.

To reach this stage Plovdiv beat Iskra of Montenegro 1-0 (away). Last year they reached the third qualifying round of this competition by beating a Slovakian team (Spartak Trnava) on away goals, before losing 1-0 at home and away to Strasbourg, who were convincingly beaten in the play-off round by Eintracht Frankfurt. Eintracht Frankfurt were runners-up to Arsenal in their group stage, and ultimately reached the Round of 16, being eliminated only this August by Basel.

A Bulgarian team we know better is Ludogorets, who played Champions League Football four years ago, although they have been knocked out in this year's second qualifying round. One form indicator could be Saturday's 3-1 win by Ludogorets over Plovdiv. Plovdiv have 9 points from 5 league games and have slipped to sixth place in their league table. Ludogorets are currently top.

Plovdiv's captain is 31-year-old Dimitar Iliev. He's a striker who has two senior caps, one of which was gained when he came off the bench and played against Wales recently. Attacking midfielder Birsent Karagaren is another International and scored against Ludogorets on Saturday. I've noticed before how so many European teams, at various levels, have a Brazilian or two in their squad. Plovdiv have midfielder Lucas Spinola Salinas, aged 24, now in his second season here having been signed from Sertanese of Portugal.

Talking of obscure football teams such as Lokomotiv Plovdiv, you might find this little-known DraftKings Sportsbook Indiana site of interest.

It would be silly to under-estimate this side, and clearly Jose is not doing that. As I have said before, i feel that success in the Europa League will be the club's priority, and probably our best chance of a path to next year's Champions League, depite the number of games required. I'm predicting a 3-0 win for Spurs.

The game is being broadcast here in the UK on Premier Sports 2 and the official site reported an introductory offer along with full details of various channels around thr world who are showing the game. I hope you manage to see the game. I shall be offering a TV-eye report, and seeking your post-match assessments as usual.

Our return to the Europa league (our first game at this level since the Round of 32 against KAA Gent in February 2017) inevitably means meeting new officials, and so it is tomorrow. All the on-field officials are from Germany and the referee will be Harm Osmers. Herr Osmers does referee Bundesliga games. His first dip into European games could have been the International between Cyprus and Montenegro earlier this month.

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