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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Striking Upset of Champions Is Bulgaria's 'Greatest Victory'

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey -- The phone rang in the Bulgarian soccer team's locker room at Giants Stadium at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. The Bulgarian coach, Dimitar Penev, was handed the receiver. It was his country's president calling.

"This is the greatest feat anyone has done for this country," the president, Zhelyu Zhelev, told Penev. "The government has not done anything like this. The president has not done anything like this. It is the players who have done it."

The Bulgarians sprang one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, ousting powerful defending champion Germany, 2-1, to advance to Wednesday's semifinal game here against Italy.

"It is, without a doubt, the greatest victory in our country," said Iordan Letchkov, whose header off his bald pate produced the winning goal the day after his 27th birthday.

Hardly anyone here -- neutral observers, soccer lovers, Germans and even the Bulgarians themselves -- could quite believe what had happened.

It was the classic upset, along the lines of the Soviet Union beating the United States in basketball in the 1972 Olympics.

When the referee signaled the game had ended, a great roar went up from the crowd of 72,416. The Bulgarian players raced about the field, grabbing onto one another and pumping their arms. All about the grass lay German players, stunned. Then most in the stadium fell silent or spoke quietly, considering the magnitude of what they had seen.