North Macedonia pulled off one the biggest upsets in sporting history on Thursday when the minnows took on European champions Italy in a World Cup playoff and somehow pulled off a 1-0 victory in Palermo.
This game could've been played 100 times and Italy wins 99 times.
But I watched this game from start to finish and I must say the North Macedonia win was absolutely deserved. I don’t know if I've ever seen a more valiant display of defending in my life. Italy recorded 32 shots but only five ended up on target.
Poor shooting wasn't entirely to blame for the Italian’s lack of goals. Those 11 warriors in the colors of North Macedonia put their bodies on the line like their lives depended on it.
North Macedonia faced barrage after barrage of Italian attacks and thwarted every single one. Domenico Berardi will have nightmares about his missed chance in the 30th minute after a gift from goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Italy should have gone up 1-0 pic.twitter.com/le7PpoSEkM— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) March 24, 2022
North Macedonia, the Lynxes, recorded one single shot in the first half. The 67th ranked country in the world reached its first major tournament just last year. I was intrigued beyond words to watch this team at Euro 2020, where North Macedonia lost all three games but played proudly.
That Euro tournament was meant to be a last hoorah. The country’s best player in its history, Goran Pandev, retired from international play after. North Macedonia’s attack vs. Italy was even more gutted with Napoli star and key creator Elif Elmas out due to yellow card suspension.
All these factors were against North Macedonia, but the Lynxes are no strangers to a massive upset. Almost a year to the day, North Macedonia shocked the world by defeating Germany 2-1 in Germany. The minnows needed two goals in the game to win, but there was no chance in hell the Lynxes were scoring twice in Palermo on Thursday.
The second half saw more Italy attacks, however, North Macedonia was creeping into the game. Possession in Italy’s territory grew for the Lynxes and the occasional half-chance presented itself. Still, the only way it felt like North Macedonia was coming away with a victory was through penalty kicks.
A tidal wave of Italian corners continuously swooped into the North Macedonian box but somehow the underdogs would scuttle the ball clear. Italy finished the game with 16 corners to North Macedonia’s zero.
When the big substitution board was lifted to reveal five minutes of stoppage time it felt like the Lynxes might actually make it to extra time. That was until the 92nd minute, when Aleksandar Trajkovski fired in a long-range effort heard around the world — a goal that would sink the defending European champions and complete the greatest upset ever.
NORTH MACEDONIA!!! ONE OF THE GREAT UPSETS OF ALL TIMEAS IT STANDS, ITALY ARE OUT OF THE WORLD CUP! pic.twitter.com/DBRBcUhZC5
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 24, 2022
WOW. ITALY MISS OUT ON BACK TO BACK WORLD CUPS pic.twitter.com/zyBiJVxnFM— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 24, 2022
Heartbreak for Italy pic.twitter.com/ZQvGV3UA0c— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) March 24, 2022
Verratti was devastated after Italy's loss pic.twitter.com/tqWonSifKx— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 24, 2022
North Macedonia will need to pull off another miracle on Tuesday when the greatest underdog visits Porto to play Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo to try and book a ticket to the World Cup. If North Macedonia pulls of the unthinkable, it will be the first World Cup in the country’s history.
Italy, the country that made every World Cup from 1962 through 2014, will miss its second World Cup in row for the first time in history.