UEFA Euro 2020

North Macedonia Euro 2020 preview: Key players, strengths, weaknesses and expectations

Tom Gott
Jun 9, 2021, 3:00 PM GMT+1
North Macedonia are the ultimate underdogs
North Macedonia are the ultimate underdogs / ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/Getty Images
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If you're a neutral looking for a team to get behind at Euro 2020, look no further than tournament newcomers North Macedonia.

The lowest-ranked nation at the tournament, North Macedonia are arguably the biggest underdog the European Championships have ever seen, and if that's not a good reason to get behind them, then I don't know what is.

Here's what to expect from North Macedonia at Euro 2020.

Route to Euro 2020

North Macedonia were never supposed to get this far, but they surprisingly finished third in their qualifying group - Slovenia, Israel and Latvia all fell behind - and earned themselves a trip to the play-offs thanks to their impressive performances in the Nations League.

To get to Euro 2020, the Lions had to go through both Kosovo and Georgia, and that's exactly what they did. A 2-1 win over the former in the semi-final was followed by a composed 1-0 triumph over the latter in the final, earning North Macedonia a trip to the first major tournament in their history.

It's got nothing to do with the Euros, but in March 2021, North Macedonia actually beat Germany 2-1 away from home in a World Cup qualifier. They're not messing about here.

Strengths

It may come as a surprise to some, but there are actually representatives of North Macedonia playing across Europe for some of the top sides around.

A lot of their excitement comes from the midfield, where Napoli starlet Eljif Elmas is given as much creative control as you can imagine. Either side of him, you'll find Dinamo Zagreb's Arijan Ademi and Levante winger Enis Bardhi, who scored against Atletico and assisted against Real Madrid this past season.

There are some genuinely exciting players in the group, so expect North Macedonia to be a real threat on the counter.

Weaknesses

It hurts to say, but there's a good reason North Macedonia are the lowest-ranked side at the tournament. The quality just isn't there.

North Macedonia hasn't produced many elite talents, while the pool of above-average professionals is a little shallower than an international manager might hope. Up against decent sides, this team will struggle.

That's no secret, and it's not as if the Lions believe they're favourites for this tournament. They're massive, massive underdogs, but that's exactly how they like it.

Players to watch

Goran Pandev
Pandev is a hero in his homeland / Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The aforementioned duo of Elmas and Bardhi will be key to any hopes of success this summer, while Leeds' Egzjan Alioski is always one to watch (for both positive and negative reasons), but if you only have time to remember one player, make it the legendary Goran Pandev.

Now 37, the former Inter striker boasts god-like status in his homeland. He's been worshipped for years now already and gave his status a little extra bump by scoring the goal that sent North Macedonia to Euro 2020 in the first place.

Pandev is still kicking around in Serie A, finishing the 2020/21 season with a respectable total of seven goals and three assists for Genoa.

Final Euro 2020 squad

North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski named a 26-player final squad on 21 May.

Goalkeepers: Stole Dimitrievski (Rayo Vallecano), Damjan Siskovski (Doxa Katokopia), Riste Jankov (Rabotnicki)

Defenders: Stefan Ristovski (Dinamo Zagreb), Visar Musliu (Fehervar), Egzon Bejtulai (Shkendija), Kire Ristevski (Ujpest), Gjoko Zajkov (Charleroi), Darko Velkovski (Rijeka), Ezgjan Alioski (Leeds)

Midfielders: Arijan Ademi (Dinamo Zagreb), Enis Bardhi (Levante), Stefan Spirovski (AEK Larnaca), Boban Nikolov (Lecce), Tihomir Kostadinov (Ruzomberok), Ferhan Hasani (Partizani), Eljif Elmas (Napoli), Daniel Avramovski (Kayserispor), Darko Curlinov (Stuttgart), Marjan Radeski (Akademija Pandev)

Forwards: Goran Pandev (Genoa), Aleksandar Trajkovski (Mallorca), Ivan Trickovski (AEK Larnaca), Vlatko Stojanovski (Chambly), Krste Velkovski (Sarajevo), Milan Ristovski (Spartak Trnava)

Predictions

FBL-WC-2022-EUR-QUALIFERS-GER-MKD
North Macedonia are in for a rough summer / INA FASSBENDER/Getty Images

For North Macedonia, anything other than complete and utter humiliation this summer would be an enormous victory.

Drawn in Group C alongside the Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine, they could definitely have had it harder, but if we're being realistic, their chances of picking up a single point in the group stage are incredibly slim.

There's definitely enough about this North Macedonia side to give a good account of themselves, but this summer is more about the memories than any hopes of actual footballing success.

Prediction: Group stage elimination

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