Dubai: Not many would have fancied North Macedonia’s chances at Euro 2020 but having seen them ruffle the feathers of Austria yesterday, confidence will be high in their camp on the evidence of this battling display. That said, Group C – featuring Netherlands and Ukraine – is pretty tough and I don’t think they’ll get to the last 16.
They lack quality and in the end, that’s what proved the difference. Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer’s gorgeously flighted cross to the back post was met with a sublime volley from right back Stefan Laimer to open the scoring.
But then confusion in the heart of their defence allowed veteran Goran Pandev to level matters. The striker was brought out of international retirement to help the Macedonians in the competition – and he wasn’t going to miss as open goal.
The longer the game remained 1-1 you could sense the nerves were beginning to grow amongst the Austrians. Having started at centre back, David Alaba couldn’t get into the game or offer an attacking threat but the versatile defender, who has been snapped up by Real Madrid from Bayern Munich, whipped in a delightful cross in the second half that Michael Gregoritsch duly finished.
Still, plucky North Macedonia came back at them and ensured it wouldn’t be an easy ride with the tenacious Ezgjan Alioski in particular getting stuck in and making life difficult but substitute Marko Arnautovic rounded Stole Dimitrievski – who had made some fabulous saves for Euro 2020’s lowest-ranked side – to seal the points and record their very first victory at a European Championship.
The Macedonian supporters created a festival atmosphere but despite a promising showing they fell short in their first match at a major tournament in their 27-year history.