Macedonia had its chances but several missed opportunities, especially in the 1st half, and a couple of refereeing decisions that went the visitors way resulted in a 0:2 road victory for Belgium.
Macedonia opened lively and had two glorious chances in the opening three minutes to take the early lead. First, not even 30 seconds had passed when Adis Jahovikj found himself in the right position, but his header from close range was saved and it went for a corner. Pandev sent an enticing cross but the header by Jahovikj was barely saved by the outstretched legs of the Belgian keeper. Moments later, in the 3rd minute to be exact, Ibraimi took a free kick which reached the unmarked Ivan Trichkovski in the box, but his header went inches wide of the right goal post for another missed opportunity.
Belgium finally created its first chance in the 9th minute but Christian Benteke’s shot from the edge of the area was right at Macedonian keeper Tome Pachovski. Macedonia, however, continued to attack and found itself with yet another missed occasion in the 15th minute. On a counter attack, the home side had the numerical advantage but a low cross by Jahovikj was cleared by a Belgian defender, turning into a huge play as an unmarked Pandev was getting ready to pounce in front of the goal. The match was going back and forth with plenty of action, and Belgium then had its best chance of the game in the 17th minute, but Pachovski showed good awareness to save a header by Thomas Vermaelen following a corner kick from the left. Two minutes later, Pachovski punched away a powerful shot from distance by Toby Alderweireld.
Pandev turned provider in the 22nd minute with a clever pass to Jahovikj who rounded the keeper but he was now at a tight angle and his shot was saved for a corner kick. On the other end, Belgium was almost gifted a goal after a bad clearance by Lazevski, but Pachovski reacted quickly to gather the ball.
However, in the 26th minute, Belgium got on the scoresheet after Kevin De Bruyne outmuscled Lazevski to gain possession of the ball, and then fired a shot past Pachovski for the 0:1 Belgian lead.
Macedonia was not discouraged as they should have scored the equalizer a minute later, but Pandev badly mistimed a header for another missed occasion. Agim Ibraimi had created the chance with a great cross to Pandev but Goran jumped too early in front of the Belgian goal. Ibraimi was the most active player for Macedonia and attempted a knuckling shot in the 31st minute, but his effort was caught by keeper Thibaut Courtois. Pandev was then fouled in the 36th minute, leading to a free kick from a dangerous position, but Ibraimi’s shot was saved by the Courtois once again. Macedonia kept creating chances and Pandev showed good skill to create space in the 40th minute, but his shot from the edge of the area with his weaker right foot went slightly over the goal. Just before halftime, Ibraimi unleashed a missile from long range but Courtois parried the shot away to deny Agim. Macedonia went into the half time break with an undeserving 0:1 deficit.
The tempo slowed down in the 2nd half as Belgium seemed content with controlling possession, and marked Ibraimi more closely on the right wing. The first real chance did not come until the 60th minute when Ivan Trichkovski’s shot was blocked by a Belgian player. Macedonia wanted a penalty for a hand ball on that play but the referee waved play on. Going the other way, Belgium was given a penalty after the referee ruled that Eden Hazard was fouled by Lazevski. Lazevski and several of his teammates ran after the German referee to protest the decision, but the penalty stood and Hazard calmly converted the spot kick past Pachovski for a 0:2 Belgian lead.
As the game went on, the Macedonian players continued to express their disgust at the referee. In the 68th minute, Macedonia thought Ferhan Hasani was fouled but referee Deniz Aytekin didn’t call it and instead whistled a Macedonian player for a foul. Boban Grncharov, in particular, was visibly irate and said some words to the referee which got him a yellow card.
Ibraimi, although not as active as in the 1st half, had an attempt in the 69th minute that hit the side netting from a tight angle. In the 76th minute, another penalty decision that went against Macedonia left the players and crowd even more angrier at the referee. Substitute Mirko Ivanovski went down inside the area after being set up by Pandev, but Aytekin handed Mirko a yellow card for diving. Ivanovski put his hands around his head and couldn’t believe the decision as more of his teammates went to protest the non-penalty decision.
Macedonia was now pushing players forward, leaving it vulnerable on the other end. Marouane Fellaini had a good chance in the 77th minute but he mishit a header after being left unmarked inside the area. Kevin De Bruyne should have added his second goal in the 80th minute, but his shot from a good position went narrowly wide of the left goal post. The final opportunity for Macedonia came in the 87th minute through Ibraimi, but Courtois denied him again to preserve the clean sheet.
To make matters worse, Boban Grncharov and Muhamed Demiri picked up yellow cards in this game, their second bookings in these qualifications, so they are suspended for the match away to Belgium on 26 March.
To view the match report, click here.