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North Macedonia Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's Euro 2020 tournament, Sports Mole assesses the chances of North Macedonia, who are competing in their first ever major tournament.

For the first time in their 27-year history, North Macedonia will take part in a major tournament this summer when they compete on Europe's biggest stage at Euro 2020.

After achieving independence in 1991, amid the fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia, the nation have since adopted new nomenclature, changing their title in February 2019 from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), to the Republic of North Macedonia.

This diplomatic amendment occurred just before their Euro 2020 qualification campaign began, with Leeds United's Ezgjan Alioski scoring the first competitive goal under their new identity in a 3-1 win over Latvia in March 2019.

North Macedonia's Elif Elmas celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 1, 2021© Reuters

North Macedonia's squad is among the most widely scattered at this year's tournament, with players representing clubs in Armenia, Belgium, Croatia, England, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia and Spain.

Even though there is plenty of positivity heading into the tournament, off-field problems remain a cause for concern. Scandals surrounding the nation's Football Federation, president Muamed Sejdini and manager Igor Angelovski have spiralled into public conflict, while the controversial colouring of their new kit – which has since been rejected by UEFA and changed – angered supporters.

Despite these issues, the Red Lynxes will be hoping they can leave their mark at the delayed Euro 2020 finals, with their population of just under three million cheering them on back home.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of North Macedonia's chances at Euro 2020.


GROUP

Although North Macedonia qualified as a fourth seeded team for Euro 2020, the draw was seemingly kind as their group could have been tougher. They are joined in Group C with 1998 winners the Netherlands as well as Ukraine and Austria.

Euros Group C

The Red Lynxes are already familiar with Austria, having faced them twice during their qualification campaign, though they lost on both occasions.

However, North Macedonia will be less acquainted with both the Netherlands and Ukraine, who they have only faced four times each, winning just once against the latter in March 2004.

Angelovski's side are rank outsiders to progress from Group C, but if they can cause one or two upsets, then they could be in with a chance of securing one of the four best third-placed positions up for grabs.

FIXTURES

June 13: Austria vs. North Macedonia (5pm, National Arena, Bucharest)
June 17: Ukraine vs. North Macedonia (2pm, National Arena, Bucharest)
June 21: North Macedonia vs. Netherlands (5pm, Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

North Macedonia had been drawn in a challenging qualification Group G along with Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Israel and Latvia and were not considered as one of the favourites to progress.

The Red Lynxes claimed four points from their opening two fixtures, beating Latvia 3-1 in their first game before drawing 1-1 away in Slovenia. They then suffered two successive defeats, losing 1-0 to eventual group winners Poland and 4-1 at home to Austria, which proved to be their heaviest defeat of the qualification campaign.

Later came three crucial results where they accumulated seven points, drawing 1-1 with Israel before winning 2-0 and 2-1 in respective reverse fixtures with Latvia and Slovenia. Defeats to Poland and Austria again put their hopes of progression in the balance, but a slender 1-0 victory over Israel in their final match proved decisive, as a superior head-to-head record gave North Macedonia the advantage of third place, leaving Slovenia – with the same number of points (14) – in fourth.

North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski celebrates with players after qualifying for Euro 2020 in November 2020© Reuters

Angelovski's side missed out on a top-two place in Group G, finishing five points behind Austria in second. However, a further opportunity to qualify for Euro 2020 was provided through their success in the 2018-19 Nations League. They finished top of League D Group 4, promoting them to a higher group and also handing them a place in the Euro 2020 playoffs.

North Macedonia competed in Path D of the playoffs, winning their semi-final clash 2-1 against Kosovo, thanks to Benjamin Kololli's own goal and a 33rd minute header from Darko Velkovski, his first and only international goal to date.

Their playoff final, which was held in Tbilisi against Georgia, ended with veteran forward Goran Pandev scoring the only goal as the visitors secured a narrow 1-0 victory, sending them through to their first ever major tournament.


RECENT FORM

North Macedonia head into Euro 2020 having lost only two of their last 10 international matches across all competitions.

A convincing 5-0 World Cup qualifier victory against minnows Liechtenstein on March 28, was followed by a historic 2-1 triumph away at four-time world champions and three-time European victors Germany three days later, with Napoli's Eljif Elmas scoring a dramatic 85th minute winner.

Macedonia's players celebrates after winning their game against Kazakhstan on June 4, 2021© Reuters

North Macedonia extended their unbeaten run to four matches, with a 1-1 draw against Slovenia and then a 4-0 victory at home to Kazakhstan in their final two warm-up games this month, before their opening fixture of the tournament this Sunday.

Angelovski's men have proven they have an attacking threat in the final third, scoring in 14 of their last 15 international games, finding the net at least twice in eight of those matches.


SQUAD

North Macedonia players pictured on June 1, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Stole Dimitrievski (Rayo Vallecano), Damjan Siskovski (Doxa), Risto Jankov (Rabotnichki)

Defenders: Stefan Ristovski (Dinamo Zagreb), Kire Ristevski (Ujpest), Gjoko Zajkov (Charleroi), Ezgjan Alioski (Leeds United), Visar Musliu (Fehervar), Darko Velkovski (Rijeka), Egzon Bejtulai (Shkendija)

Midfielders: Ferhan Hasani (Partizani), Stefan Spirovski (AEK), Enis Bardhi (Levante), Boban Nikolov (Lecce), Tihomir Kostadinov (Ruzomberok), Eljif Elmas (Napoli), Arijan Ademi (Dinamo Zagreb), Darko Curlinov (Stuttgart), Marjan Radeski (Akademija Pandev), Daniel Avramovski (Kayserispor)

Forwards: Goran Pandev (Genoa), Aleksandar Trajkovski (Mallorca), Krste Velkoski (Sarajevo), Vlatko Stojanovski (Chambly), Ivan Trickovski (AEK Larnaca), Milan Ristovski (Spartak Trnava)


STAR PLAYER – Goran Pandev

North Macedonia's Goran Pandev pictured on June 1, 2021© Reuters

At the age of 37, Goran Pandev will be leading North Macedonia as captain at Euro 2020, and his experience and pedigree at the highest level will be invaluable for Angelovski's side this summer.

The forward has played almost all of his career in Italy with Inter Milan, Lazio, Napoli and current club Genoa, aside from a brief spell with Turkish outfit Galatasaray.

Pandev has enjoyed a trophy-laden club career, winning Serie A, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana as well as the biggest club prizes of all, the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup with Inter in 2010.

The four-time North Macedonia Footballer of the Year is also the nation's most capped player (119) and highest goalscorer with 37 strikes to his name, establishing himself as one of the country's greatest players of all time.

Pandev further enhanced his reputation as a national hero after he made his 100th international appearance against Latvia in March 2019, when he auctioned his match shirt to raise funds for a hospital fighting the coronavirus pandemic.


MANAGER – Igor Angelovski

North Macedonia manager Igor Angelovski on March 31, 2021© Reuters

Igor Angelovski has the honour of coaching North Macedonia at their first major tournament, and although he takes the reins of a nation with no expectations to succeed, the 44-year-old is keen to prove his side are not just here to make up the numbers.

Angelovski began his coaching career as a 36-year-old in 2013 with North Macedonian side Rabotnicki. After winning the league title and two domestic cups, he then moved to the national team, first as an assistant before replacing Ljubinko Drulovic as manager in October 2015.

Since his appointment, North Macedonia's fortunes have transformed on the international stage. Although they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Red Lynxes won three of their qualifying matches, the most they have managed in the last 23 years.

Angelovski was also able to guide them to the summit of League D Group 4 of the Nations League in 2018-19, before finishing second in League C Group 2 in 2020, with just one defeat from six games.

The Skopje native, who has never managed outside of North Macedonia, is a popular figure with the national team and could elevate his stature in the game to new heights if he can guide the Red Lynxes through to the knockout stage.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: N/A

North Macedonia's Eljif Elmas celebrates scoring their second goal against Germany on March 31, 2021© Reuters

Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, North Macedonia had never previously qualified for a World Cup or European Championship finals.

In the previous two qualification campaigns for 2012 and 2016, the Red Lynxes lost 14 of their 20 matches combined, winning only three times. However, in stark contrast, North Macedonia were victorious four times during the 2020 qualifiers and won a further two matches in the playoffs.

Prior to this year's tournament, the closest they had come to qualifying was for Euro 2008, though they still finished 10 points behind second place, winning four of their 12 group matches.


PREDICTION

Regardless as to where they finish, North Macedonia can enjoy their first appearance at a major tournament, with the hope of potentially causing one or two upsets along the way.

The Red Lynxes believe they are ready to make the step up having finally arrived on the biggest stage, but off-field problems remain a cause for concern and have the potential to disrupt the positive atmosphere amongst the squad.

Angelovski's men do have the potential to pick up points in Group C, but finishing above any of the other three competitors may prove too big a challenge.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group C

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