Few who watched Euro 2016 would forget the performance of Iceland, a nation with only 320,000 people. This time, unfortunately, Iceland is not in the tournament, which leaves the slot for the smallest nation (population-wise) empty.
Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, North Macedonia.
Macedonia: When did it become a nation?
Ever heard of the Macedonian Dodo? Don’t worry if you haven’t. It is a fictitious bird. The real dodo went extinct a few centuries ago and had nothing to do with Macedonia.
North Macedonia (also called the Republic of Macedonia) was one of the several nations to emerge in 1991 after Yugoslavia split (others being Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo-which is only partially organised). The Yugoslavia split was henceforth known as Balkanisation, and you can read about that here.
North Macedonia is a small country even by European standards. To put this in context, its population is just over two million, a little over twice the population of Guwahati (as per the 2011 census). Croatia, another Balkan nation in the Euros, has about 4 million people. The nation has a majority Christian population, while about 25% of its population is Muslim.
North Macedonia will take on Austria in its first match. Although Austria has many famous players (including former Champions League winner and serial Bundesliga winner David Alaba), both teams are considered minnows in the tournament. As part of Group C, Macedonia will also play Netherlands and Ukraine in the group stages.
Players to watch out for:
They might be minnows, but do not assume that their players ply their trade in obscure leagues. Their most capped player is Goran Pandev, who plays for Genoa FC and is a familiar name for anyone who watches Seria A. Pandev, interestingly, is their all-time leading scorer and scored the winning goal to send them to their first major tournament in their 27-year history.
Leed’s United’s Gjanni Alioski is another player who performed well for the English club in their return to Premier League after more than a decade. Alioski may have started as a left-back but has scored seven goals for his country since 2018 and is likely to be used in more attacking positions. The tiny chance that Macedonia has of progressing to the next stage rests majorly on these two players.
Another star for North Macedonia would be Napoli starlet Eljif Elmas. Elmas is only 21 but has been representing his nation for three years now and his creativity would play a crucial role in the team’s progress. Dinamo Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi and Levante winger Enis Bardhi would provide support to Elmas.
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