Macedonia kicked off the World Cup qualifying campaign with big three points from the match against Scotland, with an early goal from Ilco Naumoski for a 1:0 win Macedonia played lovely football and the flying start proved too much for Scotland, but George Burley’s side improved markedly as the game wore on and but for a couple of questionable decisions, would have claimed a point.
The free kick which led to Macedonia’s winner was harsh in the extreme and the Scots were denied a clear-cut penalty after the interval.
A defeat is not the ideal start to qualifying, but there were positives to take and Scotland will face easier tasks on their travels than they did on Saturday.
The stifling heat should not be used as any sort of excuse, but the Macedonians seemed far more comfortable in the conditions. They were sharper into the tackle, swifter on the break and more composed on the ball.
The winning goal had more than a touch of fortune, as Scotland gave the ball away sloppily from a throw-in and Goran Maznov won a fortunate free kick with an outrageous dive.
Scotland were made to pay a heavy price as Naumoski was on hand to bundle home from close range after Craig Gordon had made a superb save from Goce Sedloski’s powerful free kick.
In Goran Pandev, Macedonia have a forward out of the top-drawer, full of craft and always seemingly in a yard of space. His promptings had Scotland chasing shadows at times and he proved his all-round ability with a stunning volley which looked destined for the top corner before the intervention of Gary Caldwell.
After weathering a storm, Scotland found a foothold in the game as James McFadden twice went close with promising efforts, Barry Robson had a long-range drive comfortably saved and a corner caused panic in the Macedonia box.
The home side always carried a threat and but for a stunning saving tackle from Caldwell, Maznov would have doubled the lead before the interval.
Scotland came out far sharper after the break, seemingly having been told by Burley to adopt an attacking approach, and they should have levelled the scores on 55 minutes.
A flowing move resulted in Gary Naysmith whipping in a delightful cross from the left which the onrushing Darren Fletcher quite simply failed to make contact with from six yards.
Ipswich fans will testify that Velice Sumulikoski packs a punch with his right foot and his rasping drive from 25 yards was superbly tipped over the bar by Gordon.
Naumoski’s physical presence was a concern for the Scots and his strength enabled him to test Gordon’s reflexes from eight yards, but the Sunderland keeper once again proved up to the task.
The Scots did not get the rub of the green in Skopje and twice within a matter of seconds with 20 minutes remaining they had decent penalty appeals waved away.
Kenny Miller tumbled under challenge in the box and as the ball rolled loose, McFadden seemed to be fouled by Macedonia keeper Petar Millosevski. Both appeals seemed valid, in particular the latter, but referee Pavel Kralovec was not interested and McFadden was booked for his protests.
Scotland chased the game manfully and Shaun Maloney went close with a drive in injury-time, but they failed to find a leveller as their Group Nine campaign began with a defeat.