By Tom Caldwell.
North Macedonia, a nation of just two million people, has nearly qualified for the upcoming Euro 2020, now 2021, tournament and it has gone virtually unnoticed.
They are able to qualify for the tournament through Path D of the play-offs where they will face Kosovo, and one of Georgia or Belarus, should they win that first game.
What follows is a look at some of the talents that helped them get into this position.
One of Macedonia’s brightest stars is the versatile 28-year-old Leeds winger Alioski. He started his career with the academy of Swiss club Young Boys where he played for the reserves but failed to make an appearance for the first team.
To secure first-team minutes he joined FC Schaffhausen, playing in the Swiss second tier. He made 77 appearances there, scoring four goals. He then joined the top flight, for FC Lugano 34 times, scoring 16 goals, impressive for a winger.
Alioski now plays regularly in various positions for Leeds United in the English Championship under renowned Argentine coach, Marcelo Bielsa. Could Ezgjan help fire them to the promised land?
Although Enis Bardhi is 24 years old, given his potential there is still a lot of room for the La Liga playmaker to improve. He started his career with Swedish second-tier team KSF Prespa Birlik — not many of these players actually started in Macedonia professionally.
There he made ten appearances, scoring five goals from his position as an attacking midfielder or No. 10.
He then moved onto Újpest in Hungary where he continued his development. Then, aged 20, he got his big move to Levante where he has starred for nearly three years.
Pandev is true Macedonian royalty. Macedonia’s biggest footballing legend and one who actually started his career in Macedonia, at second division side Belasica.
After making a good impression there, he earned his big move to Internazionale. Although never playing for the Nerazzurri, he went on two loans which shaped his career — a season each at Spezia and Ancona, where he did well enough to catch the eye of Lazio.
He played 159 games for them across five seasons, scoring 48 goals, and became a bit of a legend among the Lazio faithful in the process.
He has since spent time at Inter (finally getting a game in this second spell), Napoli, Galatasaray and Genoa, where he is also highly regarded.
He has represented his country 108 times, and scored 34 goals, making him his nation’s all-time record holder for both caps and goals.
Last but certainly not least, we have Macedonia’s most promising young talent. Like Pandev, Elmas has played in Turkey and Italy but started his professional career at Macedonian second-tier outfit FK Rabotnički.
Elmas made his first senior appearance aged just 16 and played for Rabotnički until getting picked up by Fenerbahçe while still a teenager. Now 20 years old, he has ended up at Napoli with a reputation as an incredible talent who could go right to the top.
Under the tutelage of Napoli’s incredibly talented coaches, the sky is the limit for young Elif.
Obviously, there are many more talented Macedonian players out there but these are my four personal favourites, you can leave yours in the comments. A shoutout to Curtiz for the idea, follow his YouTube channel here.