North Macedonia Profile
Famous for Goran Pandev, North Macedonia qualified for their first ever European Championship in 2020.
From 1945 to 1991, SR Macedonia did not play official international matches, as they were ineligible. Instead, they took part in friendlies against other republics within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
After their journey as an international team began in 1993, North Macedonia gradually rose up the FIFA World Rankings. Their highest position was 46th in October 2008. No milestone they have achieved in the past can compare, however, to the feat of qualifying for the next UEFA European Championship.
Establishment of North Macedonia national team
North Macedonia played their first international against Slovenia on October 13, 1993. Coached by Andon Doncevski and playing under the banner of Former Yugoslav State of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia), they lost 4-1. They then went on to win their next two national team fixtures, beating Slovenia and Estonia in friendlies.
Darko Pancev, who played for Inter Milan at the time, was a star in the initial North Macedonia team. Previously, he had played for Yugoslavia.
North Macedonia were drawn into a qualifying group for UEFA Euro 1996 with Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Cyprus and Armenia. They finished fourth in the group with seven points and missed out on the tournament.
On November 9, 1996, during qualifying for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, Macedonia recorded their biggest win, an 11-1 thrashing of Liechtenstein. They also beat Liechtenstein 3-0 in a previous fixture during qualifiers for that tournament and also recorded a 3-2 home victory over the Republic of Ireland. However, they finished fourth in their group on 13 points and failed to qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
In UEFA Euro 2000 qualifying, North Macedonia once again finished fourth in their group with eight points and failed to qualify for the finals. Their most notable result during this campaign was a 1-1 draw with Croatia, who had only recently made the semi-finals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Pandev made his debut for Macedonia during the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in a match against Turkey. Yet again, the team finished fourth in their qualifying group, amassing only seven points.
In qualifying for Euro 2004, they once again finished fourth, but on their way, they picked up a highly impressive 2-2 draw with England.
Macedonia drew home and away to the Netherlands in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but a 1-0 defeat to minnows Andorra and other disappointing results meant they finished fifth in their group and missed out on the finals by some distance.
Former Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec was placed in charge of Macedonia in February 2006, earning a two-year contract as head coach. His reign began brightly. After wins over Ecuador and Turkey in friendlies ahead of Euro 2008 qualifying, Macedonia began their campaign with a 1-0 away win over Estonia.
After a 1-0 home defeat to England, courtesy of a goal from Peter Crouch, Macedonia held the Three Lions to a 0-0 draw in Manchester in the reverse fixture.
Macedonia picked up a 3-0 win over Andorra, but their most impressive result of the qualification campaign was a 2-0 victory over Croatia, who went on to win a highly competitive group. Macedonia finished fifth with 14 points to their name and missed out on the Euro 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
Katanec saw his contract extended for two years and led Macedonia into the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. After draws in friendlies against Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland and a 1-0 qualifying win over Scotland, Macedonia moved up to 46th in the FIFA World Rankings.
Following a 4-0 defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam in April 2009, Katanek was relieved of his duties after reportedly getting into an argument with Pandev. Mirsad Jonuz took over as head coach and Macedonia suffered defeats to Scotland and Norway which saw them fail to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.
Fall and resurgence
Jonuz paid with his job for Macedonia's poor form in qualification for Euro 2012 and was replaced by John Toshack. Toshack steered them through the end of their campaign.
Toshack left as manager prior to Macedonia's 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign and was replaced by Cedomir Janevski. Towards the end of yet another unsuccessful qualifying bid, Janevski moved to RAEC Mons and was replaced by Goran Stratev. Macedonia, embarrassingly, finished bottom of their group.
Pandev retired from international soccer after their failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The disappointments and chopping and changing continued as the team failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. However, inspired by Pandev, who had returned to national team duty in October 2015, their form did improve somewhat towards the end of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
Euro 2020 qualification
Macedonia was renamed North Macedonia after the Prespa agreement came into force in February 2019.
They earned promotion to the third tier of the UEFA Nations League after winning their lowest tier which also featured Armenia, Liechtenstein and Gibraltar.
They then went on to earn a spot in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs. A 2-1 home win over Kosovo was followed by a 1-0 victory over Georgia thanks to Goran Pandev's goal to book their spot at the tournament finals in 2021 (delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
"I'm emotional and so happy. We played a great game. We stayed united and compact," Pandev told UEFA's official website after the game. "We've won for our people and for all of you. The dream has become a reality!
"We have a young group but the boys are strong and they have a good future ahead of them. Before the game, I spoke with the team and I told them to stay calm. At the end, we have won, and I'm just so excited."
North Macedonia celebrated their most famous victory in March 2021 when they beat Germany 2-1 a World Cup qualifier.
North Macedonia legends
Goran Pandev remains the most iconic player in North Macedonian soccer history. The forward has had a stellar career in Italy, most notably shining for clubs such as Inter Milan, Napoli and Lazio. Currently, he plays for Genoa.
Prior to the Goran Pandev era, Darko Pancev was the team's biggest star.
Albania are their major rivals.
North Macedonia has a population of just over 2,000,000. They play most of their home matches at the Toee Proeski Arena in Skopje.