Macedonia will not have much time to celebrate the narrow win over Luxembourg as they resume EURO 2016 qualifying on Sunday with a tough road clash versus Ukraine.
First, let’s begin with changes made to the Macedonian squad. Agim Ibraimi and Muhamed Demiri did not travel to Ukraine due to injuries. Ibraimi went back to Slovenia to get a diagnosis on the severity of his injury, while Demiri might have a possible concussion after his collision with Daniel Mojsov in the Luxembourg match on Thursday.
Manager Boshko Gjurovski called up two new players in Rabotnichki duo Aco Stojkov and Goran Siljanovski. Stojkov was called up to replace Ibraimi, while Siljanovski is a right-back who was added to challenge Stefan Ristovski. Gjurovski has not been happy with the play of Ristovski, so he brought up another right-back since Stefan was the only RB in the initial squad. Also, just to be clear, Ristovski is eligible to play in the Ukraine qualifier, if Gjurovski opts to start him again. For these qualifications, UEFA made changes and now three yellow cards lead to a suspension, not two as in previous editions of the competition. Demiri, meanwhile, was not replaced since Macedonia has three other defensive midfielders on the team in Arijan Ademi, Nikola Gligorov and Stefan Spirovski.
Daniel Mojsov suffered two broken teeth from that collision with Demiri, but he did travel to Ukraine. His availability remains a question, however, as he will have to be cleared by the medical team before the game. Mojsov wants to play but the Macedonian doctors must evaluate him to see whether that’s in his best interest following that ugly collision. If Mojsov can’t go, then Gjurovski will have to choose between Aleksandar Damchevski or Ardian Cuculi (can also play CB) as to who will partner Shikov in the center of the defense. Ezgjan Alioski is fully expected to start at left-back as Cuculi does not appear to possess the quickness to play that position.
With the absence of Agim Ibraimi, Gjurovski will have to decide whether to start two strikers up front (Jovan Kostovski and Adis Jahovikj) or just one. Gjurovski praised both Kostovski and Jahovikj after the Luxembourg match, so it’s possible that both may start in a 4-4-2 formation. Now, Gjurovski has always reiterated that it doesn’t matter who starts, but rather who finishes, so we’ll see what he plans to do to the starting lineup. Locks to start include Tome Pachovski, Vanche Shikov, Daniel Mojsov (if deemed healthy), Ezgjan Alioski, Arijan Ademi, Aleksandar Trajkovski and Besart Abdurahimi.
Muarem Muarem will likely be dropped from the starting lineup since Gjurovski was not at all happy with his play in the Luxembourg game. He was looking for creativity from Muarem, but that did not transpire which led to his substitution after 60 minutes. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether Gjurovski also drops Ristovski who has been a liability on defense. Does Goran Siljanovski, a player who was just added, start over Ristovski? It does seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible since Ukraine’s strength is on the wings where Ristovski has badly struggled marking opposing players. Finally, Gjurovski has to decide who will partner Arijan Ademi in midfield. Does he go back to Stefan Spirovski or turn to Vardar’s Nikola Gligorov? Spirovski struggled mightily in the Spain qualifier last month, so we believe that Gjurovski will lean towards the more experienced Gligorov.
When it comes to Ukraine, they have a squad that mainly plays in their domestic league. Only one player from Ukraine’s 24 men squad plays outside of their league, that being Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in Russia. The Ukrainian national team is led by two outstanding wingers in Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. Those are two very skilled dribblers who possess the speed and talent to cause all sorts of havoc. That’s why the Macedonian wing-backs must be ready to bring it defensively. Otherwise, Macedonia stands no chance if Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka dominate the match.
Due to the safety situation in Ukraine, only the cities of Kyiv and Lviv are able to host matches at this time. With that being said, since Macedonia is not a premier opponent, the Ukrainian federation opted to host this qualifier in Lviv. The “Arena Lviv” is a smaller stadium than the one in Kyiv, and there is obviously a better chance for the match to be sold out in Lviv.
Gjurovski has been relying on Shikov, Jahovikj and also Martin Bogatinov (who is not on current team but has been communicating with coaches) to give him scouting reports on the Ukrainian squad. Those three players formerly featured in the Ukrainian league and know their players.
The EURO 2016 qualifier between Macedonia and Ukraine gets underway at 18:00 CET on Sunday. UEFA has appointed referees from Belgium to officiate the match, with the man in charge being Sébastien Delferiere.