CSKA Sofia excluded from Champions League

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia have been excluded from next season’s Champions League after failing to meet licensing criteria, the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) said on Thursday.

“CSKA will not participate in the 2008-2009 UEFA’s Champions League as this is a final decision,” the BFU said in a statement.

CSKA won their 31st Bulgarian league title this season and earned a place in the Champions League’s third qualifying round but could not meet the BFU’s Licensing Commission conditions.

UEFA, European soccer’s governing body and organisers of the Champions League, were unavailable for comment.

The Balkan country’s most successful club, who marked their 60th anniversary last month, owe money to the National Social Security Institute, National Revenue Agency and creditors.

CSKA president Alexandar Tomov accepted responsibility for his team’s failure and announced his resignation.

“I have to do that,” Tomov told reporters. “It is me and only me who is to blame.”

“I’m not going to blame any of my subordinates because I’m the leading figure and everyone stares at me.”

Tomov said in a statement on CSKA’s official Web site ( he would be replaced by the chief executive Emil Kostadinov, a former CSKA player.

“I will continue helping the club in the future,” Tomov said.

Many CSKA supporters have blamed Tomov for not getting the club’s finances in order and he was insulted by fans during a chaotic news conference on Tuesday and hit by a thrown bottle outside the club’s Bulgarska Armiya stadium.

CSKA fans will gather at a meeting in Sofia on Friday to protest against the club’s policies.

“It’s a disgrace,” Dimitar Angelov, the chairman of the fan club told reporters. “It’s a stunning blow not only to CSKA supporters but to all Bulgarian citizens.”

CSKA could be also expelled from the domestic premier league and forced to play in the country’s amateur third division.

The BFU said it would discuss the issue at an Executive Committee meeting.

Portuguese champions Porto were excluded from next season’s Champions League on Wednesday for allegedly bribing referees in the 2003-4 season.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Miles Evans