A second-half goal from 37-year-old forward Goran Pandev gave North Macedonia a 1-0 victory away to Georgia in their playoff final on Thursday evening in Tbilisi.
Pandev, Macedonia’s most capped player and all-time leading scorer, flicked the ball past the Georgian keeper and into the back of the net in the 56th minute of a scrappy match played on a slippery pitch.
Georgia, also hoping to qualify for its first major tournament, lost its sense of attack and composure after the goal was conceded and never threatened offensively for the remainder of the match.
North Macedonia will face off against Austria, the Netherlands and Ukraine in Group C at Euro 2020, which has been postponed until June-July next year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
North Macedonia qualified via the fourth division (Nations League D) of UEFA’s inaugural Nations League competition, but their players were not going to allow that to detract from their impressive qualification.
With a final Euro spot at stake, the match started off relatively slowly. It took 28 minutes before either goalkeeper had to make a save when Georgian playmaker Tornike Okriashvili tested Macedonian keeper Stole Dimitrievski with a long-range strike.
Okriashvili also sent a shot swerving narrowly wide of the post as Georgia threatened to take control. But, with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia missing after testing positive for COVID-19, they lacked speed and finesse in attack.
There were 29 total fouls in a stop-start match and only four shots on target, but the nicely finished Macedonian goal was something to be remembered by a nation of only 2.08 million people.
Eljif Elmas broke down the left and slipped the ball to Ilija Nestorovski inside the penalty area and he found Pandev who flicked the ball past Giorgi Loria for his 36th international goal.
North Macedonia had only one real scare when an intended cross by Okriashvili nearly flew into the top corner but Dimitrievski caught it under the bar and just managed to cling on by pinning himself to the inside post.
Gunnar Sadowey is the sports editor for the Crimson. He is a senior from Elkhart, IN. Gunnar is currently a journalism and mass communications major with a print concentration and a German minor.