Euro 2020 preview, Group C – North Macedonia: Filip Mishov on the Lions’ first ever finals appearance
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Filip Mishov gives us his take on North Macedonia…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
North Macedonia are going to the Euros on the wings of an amazing away win (1-2) against Germany in the World Cup qualifiers and the squad is pretty confident ahead of the big event. With that said, it doesn’t mean the coach, the staff or the players will be short of goosebumps when they step onto the pitch representing their country in a major tournament for the first time ever in their history.
The current squad always rises to the occasion and unbreakable chemistry, strong character and true quality led Macedonia to the Euros. The win against ‘Die Mannschaft’ in Duisburg was a huge statement that Macedonia can compete with the best national teams and the European Championship is the perfect platform to continue this trend.
The whole nation is extremely proud of the manager Igor Angelovski and the players. We are confident and optimistic with the Euros in sight, looking to make it at least to the knockout stage.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
The manager Angelovski has fully mastered the strengths and the weaknesses of the players through the years and the team is most dangerous when playing counter-attacking football. Macedonia is definitely not used to playing possession-based football, although due to the technical ability of the midfielders Arijan Ademi, Elif Elmas and especially the Levante playmaker, Enis Bardhi, the team can play in tight spaces and keep hold of the ball when necessary.
Beside the tactics and the individual brilliance of some of the players, the unity in the squad is one of its biggest strengths. They’ve played together for more than five years and formed a strong bond, being like one big family. The character in the squad starts from the legendary Goran Pandev and goes through his successor Elmas and then to Ademi in midfield and finishes with the Leeds United wing-back, Ezgjan Alioski and Stefan Ristovski in defence.
And any weaknesses?
Macedonia has a very good starting line-up, but the strength in depth is concerning as the manager doesn’t have many players which can make a difference coming off the bench. For instance, the first-choice striker Ilija Nestorovski will miss the tournament due to ACL injury and only Aleksandar Trajkovski has proved to be capable of replacing him from the attacking options.
This prevents Angelovski from using different tactical variations and the 3-5-2 is the most frequently used formation by the manager. Hopefully, the players will avoid injuries and Macedonia will travel with the strongest squad at the Euros.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
Soon-to-be 38, Goran Pandev is undoubtedly the biggest star coming from Macedonia at the Euros. The legendary captain has been instrumental for the national team over the years and he scored the decisive goal in the Nations League play-off against Georgia which led us to the historic achievement [qualifying for Euro 2020]. He is a natural striker with an excellent finishing ability, who is always in the right place at the right time.
Pandev has been a force in Serie A for over a decade and has won the biggest accolades with Inter, then played for Napoli and now is at Genoa. The most capped player (117 appearances) and the best goalscorer (37 goals) of Macedonia will most probably retire after the tournament, so the Euros will be the last dance for him.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
The one worth watching is the wonderkid Elif Elmas and the biggest European clubs will definitely be after him. He is a talented attacking midfielder who has a bit of everything and can play in several positions behind the main striker.
Whether he is coming in from the wing or strolling through the middle, the Macedonian jewel always looks to create a chance for his teammates or to place the ball in the net. Elmas is only 21-years-old, currently playing for Napoli, but has mostly been restricted to the bench under club manager Gennaro Gattuso, who was sacked in May.
Elmas will be eager to impress as he will have a key role to play for Macedonia. A golden future awaits him and I believe he will declare himself at the upcoming tournament as the next big star coming from Macedonia.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
Group C is well-balanced in terms of quality where only the Netherlands step up as a narrow favourite. The other three teams are very close and similar and it will be a tough battle for the second and third spot in the final standings.
Macedonia played Austria in the Euro qualifiers and they’re no strangers to each other, while Ukraine, which is obviously a talented squad, is not a national team from the top bracket.
If Macedonia displays the talent, the determination and the motivation which led the country to the Euros, I’ve no doubt that the knockout stage is achievable, which is the ultimate dream.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
France and Portugal are best placed to lift the trophy with the outstanding talent coming through their ranks, while Romelu Lukaku is my favourite to win the Golden Boot.