Evening all! Sports Mole
's live Euro 2016
qualifying coverage continues from Skopje as Macedonia welcome Spain in Group C. The hosts can no longer qualify for next summer's tournament following a run of just one win in seven matches, but Spain will be looking to stretch their lead at the summit of the group as the home straight approaches. Here's to an entertaining game tonight!
First and foremost, let me bring you up-to-speed with the team news...
MACEDONIA: Pacovski; Brdarovski, Sikov, Ristevski, Zhuta; Gligorov, Petrovikj; Ashkovski, Hasani, Radeski; Ivanovski
SPAIN: De Gea; Carvajal, Ramos, Pique, Bernat; Busquets, Cazorla, Isco; Mata, Costa, Silva
So there we have it. Macedonia are without midfielder Besart Abdurahimi and defender Stefan Ristovski through suspension this evening, while head coach Ljubinko Drulovic is also without injured pair Arijan Ademi and Daniel Mojsov. Mirko Ivanovski will lead the line once again for Macedonia, while there is also just a second international appearance in midfield for Milovan Petrovikj.
As for Spain, Vicente del Bosque has made six changes from the team that started against Slovakia at the weekend. David de Gea replaces Iker Casillas between the sticks, while Dani Carvajal and Juan Bernat come into the two full-back positions. Santi Cazorla, Isco and Juan Mata
are also handed places in the XI at the expense of Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Andres Iniesta.
H2H! In terms of the previous meetings, Spain were 5-1 victors when the two countries met in the reverse qualifier last September. Overall, the two nations have met on four occasions and Spain have recorded four wins. Aside from the clash in this group, the two teams also met during qualification for Euro 1996. Spain were 3-0 winners on their own patch, before recording a 2-0 victory in Skopje.
As an independent nation, Macedonia have never before qualified for a major international tournament and that wait will indeed continue following a disappointing qualification campaign this time around. As mentioned, they were thumped 5-1 by tonight's opponents in the reverse match last year, but did recover in their next outing to produce a 3-2 victory at home to Luxembourg.
Macedonia then lost in Ukraine, before suffering defeat in back-to-back home matches against Slovakia and Belarus. Drulovic's side then lost 2-1 in Slovakia in June, before going down 1-0 in Luxembourg at the weekend. As a result, they sit bottom of the group on three points having lost six of their seven qualification matches thus far. It has been a really tough campaign truth be told.
That said, Macedonia are only one point off Belarus and Luxembourg, who sit fourth and fifth respectively as things stand. Finishing in the top three in this group was always going to be a tough ask, but if they can surpass Belarus and Luxembourg to finish fourth, it would be seen as a major success. Indeed, the Red Lions finished fifth in their qualification group for Euro 2012.
Indeed, Macedonia's attention will already be switching to their qualification group for the 2018 World Cup. To suggest that they have a tough section, however, would be putting it mildly. Israel and Liechtenstein are also in Group G, but so are Spain and Italy, in addition to the ever-improving Albania. Macedonia's bid to make a first ever major competition might have to wait a bit longer.
As for Spain, they might be top of the section, but their place at next summer's showpiece event is far from secure at this stage. Saturday's 2-0 win over Slovakia ensured that La Roja would enter this match top of the group, but they are level on 18 points with Slovakia and indeed just three points ahead of third-place Ukraine, with all three teams having three group games remaining.
© Getty Images
That said, Slovakia welcome Ukraine this evening and therefore at least one of Spain's rivals for the top two positions will drop points. Victory here would place Vicente del Bosque's team in a strong position entering their final two matches. However, dropped points would leave the door open for Ukraine to close on the top two in the section. Little over 30 minutes until kickoff tonight.
In terms of what is left to come for Spain, they will round off their Group C campaign with matches at home to Luxembourg and away to Ukraine. In truth, victory tonight and against Luxembourg should make their final game against Ukraine meaningless in terms of their own position. It would be an incredible shock if the tournament holders did not qualify at least in one of the top two positions.
Indeed, Spain have only failed to qualify for one of the last nine editions of the European Championships – missing out in 1992. They have won the last two tournaments without losing a single match, but are somewhat surprisingly just the third favourites with the bookmakers to triumph next summer behind World Cup holders Germany and the competition hosts France.
La Roja have not exactly been blowing teams away in qualifying in terms of goals, but they have not conceded a single goal in Group C since losing 2-1 in Slovakia – a run of five consecutive clean sheets. What's more, Del Bosque's team have won 18 and lost just one of their last 20 away qualifiers. In theory, this should be a straightforward three points for La Roja, but shocks can certainly happen.
While we are on the topic, here is a piece
I wrote taking a closer look at the three favourites for the tournament in France next summer. No prizes for guessing who they are!
The venue for tonight's match...
PREDICTION! To be truthful, I am finding it very difficult to make a case for Macedonia this evening. The hosts are without a number of key players and I just cannot see how they are going to contain this Spain team, albeit a much-changed La Roja. For me, a very comfortable 3-0 away win tonight.
The hosts are without a number of key players for this Group C clash, with the XI that will start seriously lacking experience. Vanche Sikov will make his 41st appearance for the national team at the back, but the remaining three defenders boast just nine caps between them - yikes.
Just a reminder that David de Gea starts for Spain this evening in his first appearance of the season. Manchester United teammate Juan Mata is also in the XI alongside David Silva and Diego Costa in the final third. Will tonight be the night that Costa adds to his solitary Spain goal? We will see!
Here we go then - both sets of players join us on the pitch for the first 45 minutes. It is just about time for the national anthems. Can Macedonia pull off one of the biggest shocks of all time here?
KICK OFF! Bottom welcomes top in Group C. Surely only one result? I cannot see a shock to be honest! Right, time for the football. It is the visitors that get the first period of action underway here...
... as expected, Spain have taken control of the possession in the opening couple of minutes, which is bringing boos from the stands. Macedonia really need to resist the early pressure.
Ashkovski gets the home supporters on their feet as he races unchallenged down the left, but the midfielder is soon crowded out and Spain regain possession of the ball. Not the best atmosphere inside the stadium tonight truth be told, but the pitch is in excellent condition, that is for sure.
Macedonia are doing their best to pass the ball in the middle of the park, but they are being surrounded by black shirts very quickly indeed. Still no chances to report, but the early indications are that Spain will dominate the match - surprise, surprise! It is a big ask for the hosts.
Just a reminder that Slovakia are hosting Ukraine this evening in a game that Spain will be interested in. I will keep you up-to-date with any goals that might go in in that one. Spain force a free kick in a wide area as Zhuta fells Silva, but Sikov makes first contact on Mata's free kick.
GOAL! Macedonia 0-1 Spain (Mata)
Oh my good grief! Spain take the lead in the eighth minute as Mata's cross towards the far post catches out the Macedonian goalkeeper - going over his head before hitting the crossbar and dropping over the line. It is an incredibly bizarre goal, but Spain will not mind. They lead here!
It has been a decent response from the home side, with Gligorov twice having a shot blocked inside the Spain box. Macedonia will have a go when they can this evening, but it is difficult to imagine Spain not scoring a couple more goals at least. It could be a very long night for the hosts.
Half-chance for Spain as Costa breaks down the left before cutting onto his right foot and attempting to find the bottom corner, but his effort was always hitting the side netting.
Macedonia continue to commit players forward, but they are struggling to find a final pass at the moment as Spain clear their lines once again. It has been an entertaining first 13 minutes here.
You fear that Macedonia might take a bit of a hiding this evening if they continue to commit players forward each time they break. It is excellent to see, but Spain might pick them off on the counter. As it stands, Spain are moving three points clear of Slovakia at the top of Group C.
Ivanovski has shown nice ability on the ball for the home side in the opening 17 minutes here, with the striker winning a free kick from Busquets in an advanced area. The ball is delivered towards the far post, but Ramos is on hand to head clear. Macedonia continue to threaten here.
OVER! Decent chance for the home side - their best of the match thus far - as Petrovikj strikes a loose ball just outside the Spain box, but his effort was always rising just over the crossbar.
Diego Costa and the referee are not exactly best friends at the moment as the official turns down a call for a free kick from the Spain striker. You get the feeling Costa needs a goal tonight.
Spain are on the front foot at the moment as Silva has another shot from inside the box, but Sikov is on hand to make the block. Mata is pulling the strings for the visitors at the moment.
Macedonia might be without a number of their key players, but they are having a right go this evening, which is creating an open and entertaining match. You just get the feeling that the next goal - if there indeed is one - will be vital. Another for Spain would equal trouble for the hosts.
Spain are still very much in control of the possession here, but clear chances are hard to find at the moment as Macedonia remain solid enough at the back. Ivanovski is the player causing Spain problems at the moment, but the forward has only ever scored one international goal - five years ago.
Macedonia continue to cause problems as Zhuta breaks down the left before delivering, but De Gea is on hand to claim. Spain regain the ball and are met by very loud boos inside the ground.
Spain have a free kick in a very dangerous area as Ristevski fells Cazorla...
... Silva takes the resulting free kick, but the wall does its job. Corner Spain.
BOOKING! Costa (Spain) is booked for an off-the-ball clash with Brdarovski.
I have to admit that I expected Macedonia to be blown away in this first period, but they have been very impressive indeed. Spain only lead courtesy of a bizarre goal from Mata and aside from that, the home side have not really been troubled. Little under 15 minutes of the first half remaining.
BOOKING! Petrovikj (Macedonia) is booked for a late challenge on Costa.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of moments, but it is Spain that continue to dominate the ball in the final third. The home supporters remain very vocal, meanwhile, as they boo every time a Spanish player has a touch. Still 1-0 to the visitors as things stand.
Slovakia and Ukraine are still level at 0-0, which means that as things stand, Spain lead Group C by three points. Macedonia are far from out of this match, however, as they continue to impress.
Macedonia think that they have conceded a penalty as the referee blows the whistle following a clash between Ristevski and Pique, but the official actually gives the decision to the hosts.
This game has some bite to it at the moment as Ivanovski goes down following an aerial challenge with Ramos, while Costa seems to be getting more and more wound up - as usual!
It just has not happened for Spain in this first period as another smart move breaks down in the final third. Aside from Mata's goal, not an awful lot has happened in the final third for the visitors. That said, Macedonia are also struggling to put together a move in the Spain half of the field.
CROSSBAR! Oh my word! Almost an identical goal for Spain as Carvajal floats a cross towards the far post, but this time it hits the crossbar and bounces away from goal! The Macedonian goalkeeper just stood and watched once again. Lightening never strikes twice does it!
Better from Spain in the last couple of moments as they start to move the ball quicker in the final third of the field. Macedonia will be pleased to get in at the break just one goal behind.
Costa heads harmlessly wide of the post after meeting a deep cross from Mata.
HALF-TIME: Macedonia 0-1 Spain
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with Spain leading 1-0 courtesy of an eighth-minute goal from Mata. The visitors are currently going three points clear at the top of Group C, but they have been far from their best against a plucky Macedonian outfit tonight.
STATS! Spain have utterly dominated the possession with 72%, but just one - the goal - of their seven attempts thus far have been on target. As for Macedonia, neither of their two attempts have been on target. It has been a spicy game in terms of challenges, meanwhile, with one booking apiece.
BENCH WATCH! Macedonia do not have an awful lot of experience on their bench this evening, but they have forward options in the shape of Velkoski, Muarem and Ibraimi. Spain, meanwhile, have an embarrassment of riches in reserve, with the likes of Iniesta, Fabregas, Koke and Pedro all available.
RESTART! Here we go then - both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second 45 minutes. Can Macedonia find a route back into the match? The hosts get the second half underway here...
... no changes from either side at the break, which is not that much of a surprise. However, I suspect that both managers already have alterations in mind at this stage of proceedings.
BOOKING! Busquets (Spain) is booked for a late challenge on Hasani.
Macedonia have a free kick in a very, very dangerous position here...
... CLOSE! Hasani toe-pokes one towards the top corner, but it just misses the post. De Gea was rooted to the spot. That is a big warning for Spain, who have made a sloppy start to the half.
The Macedonian supporters clearly like what they are seeing from their team this evening as the hosts continue to cause Spain problems. The visitors just have not started this second period.
Macedonia full-back Brdarovski takes a kick in the face from Silva and needs some attention from the sidelines, which brings further frustration for Spain, who have been ever-so disappointing.
Possession football from Spain in the last couple of minutes, but they are not creating anything in the final third, which is so unlike the European champions. I suspect that they would take a 1-0 victory this evening, but it has been a poor performance thus far. Still time to improve tonight!
Macedonia's back four might lack experience, but they have been really impressive this evening as another potentially-dangerous moment is avoided. Spain have an attempt from distance as Isco finds a yard of space, but the Real Madrid midfielder's effort was always moving just wide.
Silva dances into the Macedonian box following good work from Carvajal, but Gilgorov is on his to make a smart challenge. Just a few signs that Spain are improving as the hour approaches.
No movement on either bench at the moment, but I suspect that Del Bosque will be considering changes. The Spain boss cannot be happy with what he has seen thus far this evening. The likes of Costa and Silva just have not been in the game, which is definitely credit to the home side.
CHANCE! Panic inside the Spain box as a dangerous cross from the right falls at the feet of Hasani, but the midfielder's effort is blocked at the vital moment. Macedonia are growing in confidence!
SPAIN SUB! Paco Alcacer replaces Costa for the visitors.
It must be said that this has been a cracking match in terms of entertainment, with the home side taking the game to Spain whenever they can. All the credit must go to Macedonia as it stands.
Spain are not overly bothered with forcing the issue at the moment, which is a bit of a surprise, but they do still lead 1-0 and as it stands, are heading three points clear at the top of Group C.
Slovakia and Ukraine are still goalless in their Group C match, which is good news for Spain. Not too much to report in terms of chances in Macedonia as we head for the final 20 minutes.
SPAIN SUB! Koke replaces Cazorla in Spain's second change.
MACEDONIA SUB! Trajkovski replaces Ivanovski for the hosts.
Alcacer has been nice and bright for Spain since entering, but the latest attack ends with an offside decision going against the Valencia striker. Macedonia are still very much in this game with little under 20 minutes of normal time remaining. Spain cannot afford to drop points here.
Not too much of an atmosphere inside the stadium at the moment, but in truth, not too much is happening. Spain are comfortable defensively, but the same can also be said for the hosts here.
Just a reminder that Mata's effort in the first period has actually gone down as an own goal to the Macedonia goalkeeper. Bad news for Juan and bad news for Pacovski!
MACEDONIA SUB! Bardi replaces Askovski for the hosts.
SPAIN SUB! Iniesta replaces Isco in Spain's final change.
Spain might be heading for all three points tonight, but this is not a performance that will worry the biggest teams in world football. Germany and France are currently the two favourites with the bookies to enjoy success next summer and neither will be watching this game in fear of Spain.
Iniesta has not been on the field for long, but is now controlling the match from a central position. Del Bosque has turned to the Barcelona midfielder to settle his side late on here.
MACEDONIA SUB! Ibraimi replaces Radeski for the hosts.
Not an awful lot happening at the moment if we are very honest. Spain are in control of the possession, but Macedonia are comfortable at the back. Little over three minutes remaining.
Carvajal does not look comfortable here as the Spain right-back hits the deck following a challenge with Petrovikj. Another stoppage, which is not helping the tempo here.
The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional two minutes.
Spain are keeping possession as we approach the full-time whistle.
FULL-TIME: Macedonia 0-1 Spain
So there we have it. The referee brings the second period to a close with Spain running out 1-0 winners in Macedonia. The result means that Spain are now two points clear of second-place Slovakia in Group C, while Macedonia remain bottom of the section on three points.
Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action. Until next time!