North Macedonia qualified for Euro 2020, the first-ever major tournament in the 27-year history of the club when 37-year-old forward Goran Pandev’s second-half goal gave them a 1-0 victory over Georgia in their Thursday playoff.
In the 56th minute of a tight, scrappy match played on a slippery surface, Pandev, his nation’s most capped player, and all-time leading scorer flicked the ball home and was in tears as his team celebrated at the end.
Georgia lost its control after the goal, also hoping to qualify for their first major tournament, and never tried to get back into the game.
In Group C at Euro 2020, North Macedonia will face Austria, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, which was postponed until June-July next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the finals, we will be fighting for our nation’s pride,” said coach Igor Angelovski. “Pandev scored a lovely goal to pull us through.”
Via the fourth division of UEFA’s inaugural Nations League competition, North Macedonia qualified by what some consider the back door, but their players were not going to let that distract from their achievement.
“I am pleased. I’ve played many games like this before and I believe my experience has helped the team achieve this success,’ Pandev said.
With so much at stake, the match was predictably cagey and when Georgian playmaker Tornike Okriashvili checked Stole Dimitrievski with a long-range shot, it took 28 minutes before either goalkeeper had to make a save.
As Georgia threatened to take charge, Okriashvili also sent a shot swerving narrowly wide of the post. But they lacked creativity in attack, with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia missing after testing positive for COVID-19.