Group B: Familiar opponents

altMacedonia has been drawn in group B for UEFA EURO 2012 qualifications for Poland and Ukraine. Who are Macedonia’s opponents?

The first pot was all with favorites not for just winning the group in which they would have been drawn, but going all the way to winning the EURO as well. Croatia was secretly wished, Macedonia got Russia. Number 11 on FIFA/Coca-Cola World ranking list just failed to qualify for WC 2010 after being eliminated to Slovenia in Play-offs. They are 10th according to UEFA rankings and have met Macedonia twice so far in UEFA Euro 2008 qualifications. It was 0-2 in Skopje and 3-0 in Moscow. Surely they will held the favorites role and it will be rightly to be considered as such, as well. Russia are managed by Guus Hiddink but his contract expires this summer and it is still not known whether it will be extended.

From the second pot Macedonia did not get wanted Greece but got one of the teams that was considered as a good choice. Slovakia, although just qualified for South Africa, was one of the better second pot options. 36th in the world currently, 20th in Europe, Slovakia have a positive balance against Macedonia having won three times and once drew. It was 2-0 in Slovakia, 0-5 in Skopje in FIFA WC 2002 qualifications, they have won 0-2 in Skopje in the next qualifications tournament for UEFA Euro 2004 and the only draw happened on 10th of September, 2003 in Žilina.

Republic of Ireland was not everybody’s wish from the third pot but that is exactly what Macedonia got. After missing out on a World Cup place after that controversial hand-ball goal in Paris, Trapattoni’s team will be desperate to secure a place in Poland and the Ukraine. Only a spot behind Slovakia in both FIFA ranking and European Zone ranking list, Ireland would surely remember that Stavrevski’s equalizing goal in the dying minutes in the UEFA Euro 2000 qualifier that saw them finishing second, a point behind Yugoslavia in the group, making their first victory over Macedonia in Ireland with 1-0 worthless. In the previous qual’s tournament Macedonia managed to beat Ireland with 3:2 in Skopje but lost 3-0 in Dublin.

Against the teams that we have to be considered as strong favorites if we are to move from the fourth spot and maybe even attack on the second, Armenia and Andorra are no strangers to Macedonia as well. In 1995 Armenia stunned Macedonia twice, winning 1-2 in Skopje and getting a 2-2 draw at home. Macedonia successfully revenged 10 years later, winning 3-0 in Skopje and 1-2 in Yerevan. Against the 102nd in the world, or 43th in Europ, Macedonia must be counting on 6 points if this generation is about to write a history.

While we are at history writing, Macedonia helped a smaller country to write its’ own football history. Andorra regained self-confidence after winning against Macedonia at home and stealing a draw in Skopje – results that are still controversial in the football world. Macedonia got back on level terms winning twice 3-0 in the next qualifications but the black spot is still standing. If Andorra is no 6-pointer, Macedonia should never even think of being close to Poland and Ukraine.

Macedonia’s coach Mirsad Jonuz thinks Macedonia was handed a tough group, but at the same time a group where the national team can make a step forward and fight for the second spot at least. ‘There are ‘easier’, there are ‘tougher’ groups then this one, but it is all up to us – said Jonuz.

FFM’s president said that Macedonia will try to arrange to start this qualification tournament with away matches so the national arena Philip II of Macedon can be ready for the home matches later in the stages.

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