Football Features

North Macedonia Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

By Chris Smith

North Macedonia Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

Published: 18:15, 1 June 2021 | Updated: 14:13, 22 June 2021

North Macedonia will participate in their first ever major international tournament at this summer’s European Championships.

Igor Angelovski’s men finished third in Qualifying Group G behind Poland and Austria, but were able to advance to this summer’s showpiece via the play-offs thanks to their Uefa Nations League performance. The Red Lynxes beat Kosovo (2-1) and Georgia (1-0) to secure their spot.

Though complete novices at this level, North Macedonia do have plenty of talent and a good amount of experience in their squad, and everyone involved will be keen to make an impression to show that their nation can hold their own at this level. They’ll face a familiar opponent in Group C in Austria, while they’re joined by the Netherlands and Ukraine, who will certainly offer a stern test of their credentials.

So, what can we expect from North Macedonia at Euro 2020?

The best players North Macedonia will bring to Euro 2020

Goalkeeper: Stole Dimitrievski

Rayo Vallecano’s No.1 (keeping Luca Zidane, son of Zinedine, out of the starting XI in the process), Stole Dimitrievski enjoyed a good season in the Spanish second tier. The 27-year-old has conceded just under a goal per 90 minutes while keeping nine clean sheets so far. There are some question marks regarding his ability to command his box and claim crosses but, overall, Angelovski will be confident that goalkeeper is certainly not a position he has to worry about this summer.

Defender: Ezgjan Alioski

Any player who has enjoyed three years playing under Marcelo Bielsa is worth his weight in gold to a team making their international tournament debut and despite playing at left-back, Ezgjan Alioski is likely to be one of North Macedonia’s most important attacking weapons this summer.

Across the past three seasons, Alioski has scored 15 league goals and assisted another 13 for the Whites, while also managing six goals in 20 international caps since the start of 2018. Quick, composed on the ball and intent on getting forward and wreaking havoc on opposition defences, Alioski is one of the more underrated left-backs in the English top-flight and will certainly give North Macedonia an option when hitting teams on the break or getting crosses into the box.

But this doesn’t mean Alioski can’t defend. Quite the opposite, in fact. The former Lugano man finished fourth among Leeds players for tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League in 2020/21, while he was dribbled past just 1.53 times per 90 minutes. On both sides of the ball, there’s no doubting Alioski is one of North Macedonia’s key pieces.

Midfielder: Eljif Elmas

According to reports, Eljif Elmas — who was North Macedonia’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals — was close to joining Alioski at Elland Road last summer, but Napoli were unwilling to part ways with the midfielder. Elmas himself might well regret that now having barely been able to get starting minutes for the Italian side, though he remained an effective substitute for Gennaro Gattuso.

Capable of playing through the middle, Elmas usually operates on the left for Napoli. This is where he drifts for North Macedonia, too, despite starting centrally. From here, he can combine with Alioski as he pushes forward, while also allowing him freedom to come back inside and get shots in goal and offer a little more central dominance. Though no slouch, Elmas isn’t the quickest and usually relies on guile and technical ability to beat the opponent. He’ll be one of Angelovski’s main chance creators this summer.

Forward: Goran Pandev

Do not adjust your screens, you read correctly. That is the Goran Pandev, at 37 years old, still going strong for his country. In fact, the former Lazio and Inter man is still plying his trade in Serie A with Genoa, for whom he has scored 16 goals over the past two seasons.

At international level, Pandev is North Macedonia’s greatest goalscorer with 37 strikes, while he’s also their most-capped player of all time with 117. His most recent goal was in that shock 2-1 win over Germany in the last international break, proving North Macedonia are capable of mixing it with Europe’s finest.

Nowadays, Pandev’s game is more about dropping between the lines to link play and poaching chances in and around the 18-yard box than making energetic bursts beyond the last defender. But make no mistake, he has immense experience and pedigree at the highest level. If Pandev gets a chance, you can bet he’ll take it and if North Macedonia can keep things tight at the back, that might just make all the difference.

The manager: Igor Angelovski

After winning a league title and two Macedonian Cups with Rabotnički, Angelovski moved into the national team programme, first as an assistant, then as manager in October 2015. Since then, he has transformed the nation’s fortunes.

The qualification cycle for the 2018 World Cup saw them win three matches, the most they’ve managed since 1998 qualifying, while after a poor showing in Euro 2016 qualifying, Angelovski was able to guide North Macedonia to third, with four wins and two draws from their 10 games.

That, coupled with finishing first in Uefa Nations League Group D4 in 2018/19, then second in Group C2 with just one defeat from six games, has elevated North Macedonia to a level never before seen.

North Macedonia’s sights are set on the knockout rounds

North Macedonia are participating in their first major tournament, and for some that may be considered as success enough, made even better by the fact Skopje’s Tose Proeski Arena (home of the 2017 UEFA Super Cup final between Real Madrid and Manchester United) is hosting games.

But North Macedonia are setting their sights high. After all, this is a nation that just a few months ago beat Germany 2-1 away from home in World Cup qualifying. Drawn into an interesting group alongside Austria, Ukraine and Netherlands, North Macedonia are not favoured to reach the knockout stages – but Eljif Elmas disagrees.

“We are a small nation playing big teams but we will not be overawed and we believe that we can advance from our group to the last-16,” Elmas told a news conference.

“We know what we have accomplished is great but no one should be content to just make up the numbers at the European Championship. The tournament has been the only thing on my mind for the last three months.”

The tactics

Angelovski has experimented with 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 systems but it’s the 3-4-1-2 set-up that got him through qualifying which he normally reverts back to.

The key in this system will be making sure the wing-backs, Alioski on the left and Dinamo Zagreb’s Stefan Ristovski on the right, don’t get pinned back. Central midfielders Arijan Ademi and Boban Nikolov will play an important role in providing protection and allow those wide men to get forward.

Once in the attacking third, Alioski and Ristovski are both skilful enough with the ball at their feet to link up with Elmas, who will roam horizontally to find space, while they’re capable of delivering dangerous crosses for Pandev and Co.

It really is all about the flanks.

The form guide

Euro 2020 qualifying: WLLWWDLLDW

During the group stage of their qualification, North Macedonia took 14 points from a possible 30, winning and losing four games and drawing the other two.

Recent fixtures: WWLLWWDDWD

North Macedonia have lost just two of their last 10 games, though they bounced back from those consecutive defeats with a 5-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein and a stunning 2-1 win over Germany in World Cup qualifying last time out.

North Macedonia’s Euro 2020 odds

Given their massive lack of experience at this level, it’s no surprise to see Sky Bet pricing North Macedonia as 500/1 tournament outsiders at this summer’s Euros. In fact, they have odds of 10/3 just to make out of Group C at all (no one tell Elmas).

Should they defy the odds and finish third to make it past at least one of the Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria, there’s a good chance North Macedonia will face either France, Germany or Portugal as the winner of Group F. As such, they’re a 7/2 shot to reach the round-of-16 but go no further.

(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)