SOFIA, Aug 24 (Reuters) - A wave of euphoria has swept through Bulgaria after Levski Sofia's unprecedented success in reaching the group stage of this season's Champions League.
Levski's reward for becoming the first Bulgarian club to reach the competition proper was to be drawn in Group A along with reigning European champions Barcelona, mega-rich English champions Chelsea and Werder Bremen from Germany.
Levski were going to find it tough in any group, but at least they have the chance of attracting some of the world's top players to Bulgaria -- and capitalising on their achievements with lucrative gate receipts -- even if, as expected, they struggle to put points on the board.
The Blues reached the group stage on Wednesday after drawing 2-2 in Italy with Chievo Verona and securing a 4-2 aggregate win in the third qualifying round of the competition.
To celebrate the club's players and coaching staff presented wreaths to the monument of the legendary Bulgarian figure of Vasil Levski, after whom the club was named in 1914, soon after they landed back in the Bulgarian capital.
They were cheered all the way from the city airport to the memorial by a large number of delighted supporters.
'It's only the beginning, believe me,' said club owner Todor Batkov.
'I'm really happy because we have finally got the place we deserve. We're now part of big clubs family and you should expect more significant achievements from Levski.'
'Levski will become a constant name in the biggest tournament. We'll start this season and we'll play more than six games.'
Chief executive Nasko Sirakov, the club's all-time top scorer was rather more guarded and said: 'I hope this fairy-tale goes on.
'We've been dreaming to play against the top teams for so long and now we'll have the opportunity to show how good we are.
'Our players will be absolutely free and easy because no one will expect them to make miracles which is the positive thing from the draw.'
Bulgarian media also hailed Levski's success calling it 'the best achievement since Bulgaria triumphed (by reaching the semi-finals) at the World Cup finals twelve years ago.
The Standard daily newspaper described Levski as 'The Blue Gods of Bulgaria' in a special edition dedicated to the occasion while 7dni Sport said it was 'unforgettable night when our dreams reached the stars.'
Veteran Daniel Borimirov, 36, part of the Bulgaria squad that reached the semis at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States, was at last given the chance to compete in Europe's premier club competition proper stage.
'I'm so happy that I'm part of the first Bulgarian team who will play in the group stage,' said Borimirov. 'We've been so consistent during during the last two seasons that I wasn't surprised we made it.'
Levski, champions of Bulgaria 24 times, will give their fans free admission to Sunday's league match against Rilski as a mark of respect for their passionate support.
Bulgarian football is going through a long-waited revival at club level. Last season, Levski reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals while Litex Lovech also reached the knock out phase.