Macedonia played bravely and with determination, but eventually lost to Austria in its first ever European Championship game – which ended 3:1. Thousands of fans in the national arena in Bucharest were left satisfied with the performance, as the team now prepares to face Ukraine on Thursday.
Austria took the lead through Stefan Lainer in the 18th minute, but Macedonia came back just ten minutes later, when Goran Pandev (37) became the second oldest player to score in the European Cup. Pandev deftly exploited a scramble for the ball between Trajkovski and the Austrian goal-keeper Bachmann. The stadium and cities across Macedonia erupted in joy as Pandev’s face beamed from all TV screens.
The teams only got more aggressive in their style of play after the score was tied, and the ball moved frantically around in what was probably the most exciting game of the tournament so far. Stole Dimitrievski was stellar at the Macedonian goal, stopping several powerful shots from Austria.
Austria was more concrete when organizing its attacks, while Macedonia turned mainly to Alioski on the left side to pierce the Austrian defense. Several dubious calls from the Swedish referee Ekberg raised the temper of the Macedonian players, and sparks flew on several occasions.
Eventually, it was the better stamina of the Austrian team that helped them keep creating changes and push against the solid Macedonian defense. Gregoric ran into an Alaba cross from the left, and scored in the 78th minute. Macedonia kept pushing to even the score, but the game was put away by the substitute Marko Arnautovic in the 89th minute.
We had a chance to have a positive result but we couldn’t hold them in the last minutes. Still, given that this is our first game at a big tournament, it was a tremendous experience. We played great for 70 minutes. Austria is physically far superior but we held our own until their unfortunate second goal. We shouldn’t be disappointed, our chance is not lost yet. We need to rest well before the difficult game against Ukraine, said Pandev.
Enis Bardhi added that Macedonia was “better at times but they were better at using their chances. We gave our all and we must carry on, there is still hope”.