Dimitar Ivankov scored 42 penalties during his career, making him the most productive European goalkeeper in history. Source: Instagram @de.futbol
Dimitar Ivankov scored 42 penalties during his career, making him the most productive European goalkeeper in history. Source: Instagram @de.futbol

When goalkeepers score: The most productive European in history comes from Bulgaria

Football OlyBet 01.04.2024

Scoring goals is a real art in football, which of course is best done by strikers. However, some midfielders and defenders are undeniably good at it too – we have already introduced you to the latter on Olybet.TV.

However, it can happen sometimes that the goalkeeper’s name also appears on the scoreboard, and it is not connected with an own goal. We’ll now introduce you to these extraordinary goalies as part of another ten-part series.

6th place – Dimitar Ivankov (42 goals)

Born on October 30, 1975, in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, Dimitar Ivankov’s first love for sports was not football, but handball. He was a goalkeeper in this sport as well and Levski sports club coaches were the ones who, seeing the young man’s skills, at one point suggested that he change his field: his strengths simply stood out better in football.

That’s how Ivankov got into football training, but he wasn’t a special star in the youth classes, rather playing the role of a backup goalkeeper.

His adult debut also came out of practically nowhere. In 1996, when Ivankov was already 21, he was the third goalkeeper of the Levski club. At one point, Plamen Nikolov and Krasimir Kolev, who were in front of him in the hierarchy, were injured at the same time by the will of fate, and the main hero of our story had to go between the posts.

It all began with the Euro game

At this point, however, it is worth emphasizing that it was not a domestic league match, but a Euro game: Levski met Ljubljana NK Olimpija in the second preliminary round of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

The opener in Slovenia ended in a 1-0 win for Olimpija, but two weeks later Ivankov managed to keep a clean sheet in Bulgaria. Not only that, but Ilian Simeonov’s strike gave Levski a 1-0 win, which meant that the winner was decided on penalties.

There, Ivankov saved one penalty, but it was not enough: Olimpija reached the next round with a score of 4:3. However, the goalie had left his mark for the following seasons.

The joke became a reality

That’s how Ivankov gradually became the primary goalkeeper of the Levski club. Not only that but when the team earned a penalty against Veliko Tarnovo Etar in the Bulgarian Premier League on April 1, 1998, the right to take it was also entrusted to the goalkeeper.

This is how the penalty-kicking career of the hero of our story began, during which he realized a total of 42 penalties. Of course, Ivankov has been asked many times how he became a penalty pro.

“I just always stayed longer after training to practice penalties. At first, my teammates and coaches thought that I was just making a silly joke, but after a few months, when they saw how much dedication I had, everyone started to take me seriously,” the Bulgarian said.

Took the role of the leader

“I became the person responsible for penalties in Levski because I was able to keep a cool head and nerves. I remember one match against Brøndby [4:1 win] when I took a penalty without the permission of the head coach Slavoljub Muslin. After the game, he was furious with my decision, but all my teammates were just nervous at that moment, so I felt I had to lead by example,” he recalled.

In addition to being a good penalty taker, Ivankov was also a good goalkeeper and played a key role in Levski’s so-called golden years at the turn of the century, when they were crowned Bulgarian champions three years in a row. In addition to the above-mentioned championships, he also helped the club win the cup on five occasions.

In total, Ivankov spent nine seasons in Levski, during which he also became the captain of the team. He defended their goal in a total of 275 matches. However, in 2005, it was time to move on, and the goalkeeper pulled on the shirt of Turkish Premier League club Kayserispor, who paid Levski €250,000 for him.

A real hero moment

By that point, Ivankov’s ability to take penalties was already a well-known fact, and he continued to take them in his new home club. The biggest success of his Kayserispor period must be the 2008 Turkish Cup final when he saved three and converted two penalties in a prolonged penalty shoot-out that ended 11-10!

“This is without a doubt the highlight of my career. I took the first penalty right away and then because the streak was so long, I sent the second penalty into the net later on. In addition, those saves – it was all just wonderful!” Ivankov recalled.

In the wind of this feat, another Turkish club, a wealthier one – Bursaspor – came knocking on his door and snapped him up. The transfer turned out to be successful for Ivankov as well, as he was crowned Turkish champion with Bursaspor in the 2009/10 season. The man’s contribution to this? 30 matches (including 14 clean sheets) and 4 goals!

Retreat with dignity

Ivankov put an end to his career in Cyprus when he moved to Anorthosis Famagusta under former Levski teammate Stanimir Stoilov.

However, this swan song did not turn out to be a success, because when Famagusta fell out of the Euroseries – they lost 1:2 to the North Macedonian club Rabotnick in the aggregate of two games – the captain’s contract was immediately terminated.

Realizing the hint that his time was coming to an end, Ivankov did not overstay his welcome but put a full stop to a long career. “At all the clubs I’ve played for, I’ve always been a front-runner as well as a main penalty taker – let it remain this way,” he said.

Confidence was the key

As for the 42 penalties taken in his career, according to Ivankov, there was a simple rule: be confident.

“That I was. I was so confident that I could score even with my eyes closed. That was actually my trick. When the referee blew the whistle, I closed my eyes and opened them only when I was about to hit the ball. I practised it every day, so I knew exactly when I would reach the moment of hitting the ball,” he revealed his secret, how he outplayed the goalies with mind games.

That’s how Ivankov became known as one to shoot penalties in the upper corner of the net. Why? Because of a painful experience. “I once tried to kick the ball into the middle, but the goalkeeper stood still and just caught the shot. It was so embarrassing, so I changed my approach and haven’t been wrong since,” he explained.

Secret crush from England

Finally, one completely irrelevant, but still nice tidbit about Ivankov: namely, he is an ardent Millwall fan. Why? Because in the 1990s, their game was the very first he saw on television! “It was a match against Cardiff that was broadcast on Bulgarian television,” he remembers that day like it was yesterday.

“The atmosphere there, all the fun and the intensity of the game just grabbed me. I saw the Millwall fans and thought: they’re kind of crazy. I liked it so much that I started keeping an eye on what they were doing every week. I know that many players dream of playing at Old Trafford or Anfield, for example, but I would give anything to play at The Den even once.”

Unfortunately, this dream did not come true for Ivankov…


When goalkeepers score article series:


P.S. If you’re interested in our “When Defenders Score” series, you can check them out here:


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