Euros debutants could cause a surprise or two
EURO 2020 GROUP C
JUST reaching the finals of Euro 2020 is a major achievement in itself for North Macedonia but they won’t be content to rest on their laurels now they are rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite. The rank outsiders have already demonstrated they can give the big boys a bloody nose if underestimated after winning 2-1 away in Germany in a World Cup qualifier in March. The Red Lynxes qualified for their first major tournament via the playoffs after winning their Nations League group, seeing off Kosovo and then Georgia to punch their ticket. Suitably enough, it was the captain and national icon Goran Pandev who grabbed the iconic winner against Georgia. In the twilight of his career, 37-year-old Pandev is finally reaping the rewards of sticking by North Macedonia through some very lean times and if the Euros is to be his swansong, he will be determined to go out on a high. While North Macedonian football owes Pandev a huge debt of gratitude, the Genoa forward has head coach Igor Angelovski to thank for giving him one last shot at the big time. Angelovski has brought what was a divided squad closer together since taking charge in 2015 and that team spirit has played a big part in their run to Euro 2020. He’s also benefited from giving a chance to several of the youngsters who steered the nation to a first Under-21 European Championship in 2017, led by Napoli’s Elif Elmas, who was the top scorer in qualifying with four goals. Angelovski’s men finished a distant third to Poland and Austria in the qualification campaign for the Euros, going down to a 4-1 home defeat to the Austrians, who they will face again in their opening group game. A lack of discipline has also been an issue – no side received more yellow cards than North Macedonia’s 34 in qualifying – and their campaign could get ugly if they don’t make a strong start.