EURO 2020 Fantasy managers should look to North Macedonia for some of the most intriguing budget differentials on offer this summer.
Competing for the first time under their new name (following the 2019 Prespa agreement – they previously played as simply “Macedonia”) they finished third in Group G, well behind winners Poland and runners-up Austria.
Entering the ever more labyrinthine world of the playoffs, Northern Macedonia emerged triumphant from Path D to take their place at a European Championship finals for the first time as an independent nation.
As newcomers, they are ranked as outsiders to progress from Group C this summer, but any team who could only a few months ago inflict Germany’s first World Cup qualifying defeat in twenty years deserves serious consideration.
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining North Macedonia in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy teams.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
If the qualifications of Italy and Belgium for EURO 2020 could be described as coronation processions, North Macedonia’s was the equivalent of jumping aboard the last bus just as it was pulling away.
Their tally of four wins and two draws from ten group matches is unimpressive. The first round of five matches brought only a single victory (at home to Latvia) and five points, but autumn wins against Slovenia and Latvia in the return fixture set the stage for a Skopje showdown with fellow-challengers Israel.
That was where a first-half injury time strike by Lecce midfielder Boban Nikolov (€5.0m) from a parried corner was enough to propel North Macedonia to their highest every qualifying group finishing position (courtesy of their head-to-head record with Slovenia) and a playing record that landed them a berth in the playoffs (along with Israel, who technically finished three points behind in fifth).
NORTH MACEDONIA’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION GROUP RECORD (without play-offs)
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
From the qualifying group onwards, Ezgjan Alioski (€4.5m) has been the most consistent provider of assists to the team with seven to his name (four in the qualifying group).
Over the same period, midfielder Eljif Elmas (€6.0m) is the leading scorer, also with seven and one of two secondary assisters with four.
The two other primary attacking contributors have been veteran forward Goran Pandev (€6.5m) with four goals and midfield wizard Enis Bardhi (€6.0m) with four assists.
NORTH MACEDONIA’S MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021 (including play-offs)
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
In UEFA’s latest incarnation of playoffs for the EUROs the idea is to have one playoff path for each of the four levels (A to D) of the Nations League.
Thus, Path A saw Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania fighting it out for one EURO 2020 finals spot while Path D had the same prize being fought over by Georgia, Kosovo, Belarus and North Macedonia.
They beat first Kosovo and then Georgia to earn the right to travel this summer to Bucharest (with Romania having been knocked out of their playoff path by Iceland) to face first Austria again in EURO 2020 Group C and then Ukraine before flitting north to play the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
The playoff matches took place directly before the third and fifth matches of North Macedonia’s 2020 UEFA Nations League campaign which saw them remain unbeaten against Georgia and Estonia until, with a group victory, and with it a 2022 World Cup Finals playoff place on the line, they contrived to lose 1-0 in Armenia.
Any disappointment from that result has been channelled into 2021’s opening World Cup qualifying matches where they suffered a narrow 3-2 reverse in Romania before trouncing Liechtenstein 5-0 at home and then travelling to Duisberg to shock Germany 2-1 in only the hosts’ third ever defeat at this stage of the competition.
- Most starts: Stole Dimitrievski (10), Eljif Elmas (9), Visar Musliu, Goran Pandev, Stefan Ristovski, Darko Velkovski, Ezgjan Alioski, Boban Nikolov, Enis Bardhi (all 8)
- Most goals: Eljif Elmas (4), Enis Bardhi (2), Vlatko Stojanovski, Goran Pandev, Boban Nikolov, Arijan Ademi, Ezgjan Alioski, Own Goal (all 1)
- Most assists: Ezgjan Alioski (4), Goran Pandev (2), Eljif Elmas, Enis Bardhi (both 1)
- Goals scored: 12
- Goals conceded: 13
- Clean sheets: 2
THE KEY TARGETS
Thanks to his appearances on the left of defence (and occasionally midfield) for Marcelo Bielsa’s newly-promoted Leeds United in the English Premier League, Alioski will probably be the most well-known name in this squad to many Fantasy Football Scout readers, listeners and viewers.
They will be delighted to hear that he performs much the same duties for his country which has led to him being their leading assister over the last three seasons from marauding crosses and indirect set-pieces alike and they will be even happier that he is North Macedonia’s primary penalty taker.
Since the start of qualifying for these finals in 2019, Elmas has been North Macedonia’s leading attacker statistically with seven goals and four assists.
And yet, watching most of their matches, you would barely notice Elmas (pictured above, left) was there, especially in ties against strong opposition. You’ll typically find him sitting just in front of his own penalty area, snapping into tackles, winning the ball back and moving it on five yards.
He is no stranger to a yellow card from grabbing a counter-attacking opponent. He doesn’t so much make forward runs as suddenly materialise in and around the box, either to sweep in a cutback as he did for the winner against Germany or to make a telling layoff for a team-mate to drive in a shot.
If you’re more familiar with the Premier League than Serie A, where he plies his trade for Napoli, his style compares to Ilkay Gundogan (€7.5m) playing for Manchester City.
‘The Maradona of the Osogova-Belasica Chain’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but when you watch Levante’s Bardhi collect a ball, flick it around the corner, leave his marker for dead, swerve round another challenge and then play a perfect 50 yard diagonal or clip a free kick over the wall and past a helpless keeper he does remind you somewhat of the legendary Gheorghe Hagi.
He is quick of thought and foot, considered one of the finest free-kick takers in La Liga and has three assists in this year’s internationals. Maybe the “Czar of the Šars” could catch on?
THE LONG SHOTS
Across the pitch from Alioski, you’ll find right-back Stefan Ristovski (€4.0m) who also loves to get forward to make a telling cross. He has provided three assists since the EURO 2020 qualifiers and also chipped in with a goal on the counter-attack.
The assister for that strike was charismatic, 37 year-old talisman Pandev, scorer of the vital Playoff winner in Georgia last November. He is likely to pass 120 caps for his country in their encounter with the Netherlands and, though not a regular scorer, is vastly experienced and very much a man for the big occasion. While he used to take penalties for his nation, Alioski has assumed those duties since his rise to prominence.
Striker Aleksandr Trajkovski (€7.0m) is fighting for a starting spot up-front and has three goals World Cup qualifier goals in 2021, two in the 5-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein and another from the 3-2 defeat in Romania.
FanTeam Price Corner
North Macedonia are as much a treasure trove of budget options in FanTeam as they are in the UEFA game.
Bardhi, Elmas and Trichkovski are the only players as expensive as €5.0m, the rest of the squad coming in at €4.5m or less.
Alioski is one of the €4.5m options while Ristovski matches his €4.0m price-tag from the UEFA game with the same cost in FanTeam.