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The Story of North Macedonia at Euro 2020

North Macedonia

June 13, 2021 marked a momentous day for North Macedonia – it was their first game at a major international tournament. They came off on the losing end, but regardless, it was a moment that could never be taken away from them. For a country of just two million people, merely seeing their team at Euro 2020 was a victory. In every game, they showed plenty of heart and determination. They looked like a team who were proud to represent their country.

Their achievement can never be taken away from them and it’s something each of them will cherish forever. However, it’s important for them to not dwell on the moment too much – there is also the future to consider.

It was not an easy ride for North Macedonia to reach the Euros. Let’s take a look and see how they got there, making history in the process.

North Macedonia’s Euro 2020 Journey

North Macedonia Qualify for Euro 2020

As part of the qualification process, North Macedonia were placed into Group G. Their first two games were a success, picking up a draw against Slovenia and then defeating Latvia.

However, they then faced a pair of roadblocks in the form of Poland and Austria. Poland beat them 1-0, despite North Macedonia having more efforts on goal and creating more chances. They were unfortunate, but there was no luck involved in their next game. Austria taught them a lesson, easily beating the North Macedonians 4-1 on their own home soil.

They didn’t rue this loss, as North Macedonia bounced back with a draw against Israel and a victory over Slovenia. They were in contention for a top two finish, which would’ve seen them qualify. Next, North Macedonia faced Poland once again. They put in another huge effort, but couldn’t avoid defeat. This was followed with another loss to Austria, leaving North Macedonian hearts broken.

However, all hope was not lost. They still had another chance, thanks to the Nations League. They were drawn into the Euro playoffs, first coming up against Kosovo.

The Kosovans dominated possession, but North Macedonia were able to counter, eventually coming away with a 2-1 win. They were now just one game away from Euro 2020.

They came up against Georgia, a notoriously difficult team to break down and beat. They had played each other a month prior, with the score being 1-1 after a last-minute penalty for North Macedonia.

The first half was uneventful, cagey and scrappy. Then, in the 56th minute, the deadlock was broken by none other than North Macedonia’s hero – Goran Pandev. The Georgians were stunned and could not find a response. North Macedonia had done it – they were going to the Euros.

The Tournament

North Macedonia went into the Euros with zero expectations. Fitting, then, that they also walked away with zero points.

Their first game was against Austria. The Austrians drew first blood, taking the lead after a tidy finish by Stefan Lainer. It was somewhat against the run of play, but the quality shone through. However, North Macedonia weren’t prepared to go down without a fight. A defensive mix-up was pounced upon by Pandev, slotting the ball into an empty net.

The score was level at 1-1 until the 78th minute. Cruelly, a great ball by David Alaba was turned past Dimitrievski into the net. It had been coming.

Austria then put the result beyond doubt, with a smart goal by Marko Arnautovic, whose exuberant celebration earned him a one match ban.

North Macedonia licked their wounds and prepared for the next game, against Ukraine. Ukraine did not suffer the same slow start as Austria. They quickly put North Macedonia 2-0 down after a quickfire double from Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk.

The Lavovi battled back and scored through Ezgjan Alioski, but it would be nothing more than a consolation. It left them in a dire position – elimination looked inevitable.

Against The Netherlands, this inevitability was realised. The Dutch had far too much quality for them and picked them apart at will. The result was 3-0, but it could’ve been more.

North Macedonia came away with nothing, but in each game they gave a good account of themselves. Even against The Netherlands, despite the apparent gulf in class, they showed no fear and created decent chances.

Future of North Macedonia After Euro 2020

Even though the Euro 2020 campaign for North Macedonia was unsuccessful, it’s given them a solid foundation to build upon.

They have some talented young players to build their future around. Elif Elmas is the standout prospect, having already made 50+ appearances for Napoli in Italy’s topflight. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

Likewise, Darko Churlinov also looks to be great prospect. He needs to develop his intelligence on the pitch, but he’s a gifted player with a big future ahead of him.

They will miss their talisman, Pandev, but this is where other senior pros must step up and take his place. Alioski, for example, is a great player and can provide an example for the younger players to look up to. Given his fiery desire to succeed, he seems like a great choice for this role.

Under the guidance of native head coach Igor Angelovski, North Macedonia’s Cinderella story can hopefully be replicated at the 2022 World Cup. So far, their chances are looking good – exemplified with a 2-1 win over Germany in the qualifiers.

The foundations have been set for North Macedonia. Now, let’s see what they can do further.

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