Meet Euro 2020’s Greatest Underdog And Your New Favorite Team: North Macedonia

A bigger underdog than Iceland in 2016, North Macedonia is my bandwagon team.

You can hardly find a North Macedonia Euro 2020 preview anywhere online. That’s how little faith the world has in our Macedonian minnows. The18 pledges to become the go-to source for all things North Macedonia in the upcoming months ahead of the country’s first major tournament.

North Macedonia will be one of the biggest underdogs in Euro history and is exponentially more of a dark horse than Iceland was in 2016.

Iceland’s population of a little over 330,000 is much smaller than North Macedonia’s 2.077 million, however just because something is small doesn’t mean it can’t perform well (go ahead and snicker). In 2016, the small island nation didn’t even have the lowest world FIFA ranking in the tournament. In fact, Iceland’s ranking of 34th in the world was better than Sweden (35) and Albania (42).

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How low is North Macedonia ranked you ask? The latest FIFA rankings have the Balkan country sitting 62nd in the world just behind Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’re talking 1980 Lake Placid, USA vs. USSR underdogs here.

The other three teams in Group C are the Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine.

Before jumping on the North Macedonia Euro bandwagon, here are the answers to some questions you might have.

North Macedonia Euro 2020 Preview

North Macedonia? I thought it was just called Macedonia?

Until 2019 the country went by the name Republic of Macedonia and was commonly known as Macedonia. The name officially changed to North Macedonia due to a dispute with Greece. The Greeks have a region bordering North Macedonia called Macedonia. You can start to see the confusion, right?

The people living in the Greek region of Macedonia referred to themselves as Macedonians adding more confusion to the mix. To make a long story short, the two countries reached an agreement to slap “North” onto the country’s name and let bygones be bygones.

How did North Macedonia qualify?

The road to Euro 2020 wasn’t straightforward for North Macedonia. The small Balkan nation finished third in a group full of powerhouses like Latvia, Israel, Slovenia, Austria and Poland. With 14 points from 10 games, North Macedonia narrowly edged out Slovenia due to a tiebreaker and qualified for the playoffs.

In the ensuing two games North Macedonia defeated two more European titans in the form of Kosovo and Georgia. Goran Pandev scored the only goal of the game against Georgia to send his country to its first ever major tournament.

Speaking of Pandev, let’s meet the stars who will carry North Macedonia to glory.

Who the hell even plays for North Macedonia?

North Macedonia is led by head coach Igor Angelovski, who will announce the 26-man roster on Thursday. Several players like Pandev are automatic locks for the Euro squad. Here are two big names to keep an eye on.

Goran Pandev (Striker, Genoa)

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Pandev is the greatest North Macedonian player of all time. The 2010 Champions League winner and five-time Macedonian Player of the Year is the country’s all-time leading goal scorer with 37 and has 117 caps. 

The 37-year-old is reaching the end of his incredible career but continues to impress with Genoa in Serie A. In his sixth season with the club, he’s netted seven goals and will be crucial for North Macedonia’s attack.

Eljif Elmas (Attacking Midfielder, Napoli)

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Eljif Elmas will also be a key part of North Macedonia’s success this summer. Elmas typically comes on as a substitute for Napoli but has still managed to make over 30 appearances with the club. At 21 years old, Elmas’ youthful energy and attacking presence can pair up with the veteran Pandev.

Other top players expected to be on the 26-man roster include:

Goalkeeper: Stole Dimitrievski (Rayo Vallecano, Spanish second division)

Defenders: Stefan Ristovski (Dinamo Zagreb), Ezgjan Alioski (Leeds United), Darko Velkovski (Rijeka), Kire Ristevski (Újpest, Hungary first division), Visar Musliu (Fehérvár, Hungary first division), Egzon Bejtulai (Shkëndija, North Macedonia first division)

Midfielders: Arijan Ademi (Dinamo Zagreb), Boban Nikolov (Lecce), Enis Bardhi (Levante), Stefan Spirovski (AEK, Cyprus first division) 

Forwards: Aleksandar Trajkovski (Mallorca), Krste Velkoski (Sarajevo, Bosnia first division), Ivan Trichkovski (AEK, Cyprus first division)

One big name missing out this summer for North Macedonia is Udinese captain Ilija Nestorovski. The 31-year-old suffered a cruciate ligament injury in April.

Does North Macedonia even stand a chance?

North Macedonia has the lowest chances of winning the tournament. One betting site has the country’s odds at +75,000. One poll asked voters if they thought North Macedonia would even score in the tournament.

Much like Han Solo, North Macedonia doesn’t need to be told the odds. The team certainly didn’t listen to the odds when it took down Germany on the Germans’ home soil in March in a World Cup Qualifiers game.

David has already taken down Goliath, all that’s left is the rest of Europe. Also, one look at some of North Macedonia's training sessions assures me that this team knows how to win.

When are the games?

The North Macedonia Euro 2020 schedule looks like this:

June 13: North Macedonia vs. Austria, noon EST (ESPN)
June 17: North Macedonia vs. Ukraine, 9 a.m. EST (ESPN)
June 21: North Macedonia vs. Netherlands, noon EST (ESPN)

Come on you Lynxes! оди рисови!

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