With Iceland falling 3:1 today in Skopje, Macedonia booked a placed for the European play-off for the last three World Cup spots of this zone.
photo by FFM: the Macedonian players celebrate the historic achievement
The last match of these qualifiers coach Blagoja Milevski decided to start with pretty much the same line-up as Thursday’s match in Armenia: Dimitrievski between the posts, Alioski, Musliu, Velkovski and captain S. Ristovski in the back line, Elmas, Kostadinov and Bardhi in midfield, Trajkovski and Churlinov as wingers and M. Ristovski up front. The only change was the captain returning from yellow cards suspension and taking the place of Ashkovski, who did great job in the previous match.
Just as the Dutch did to Goran Pandev, giving him a Dutch jersey with his name on it, Macedonia did the same for Icelandic captain Birkir Bjarnason who is retiring from his national team after this game. This was his 105th match in the Iceland top.
Macedonian dominated the opening minutes with Trajkovski and Elmas having efforts, not that dangerous. The 7th minute was going on when Trajkovski beautifully found Alioski on the left. The visiting keeper was expecting a cross, but tricky Gjanni went for a surprising powerful shot instead and the ball went in. An early lead that everyone was hoping for.
The intensity pretty much dropped off after the goal. In the 18th minute Elmas got his head on a ball from a corner kick, but his effort was way off. Eight minutes later – big miss from Milan Ristovski. Nice headed pass from Bardhi to set up Ristovski who shoot right at the keeper.
Five minutes before the break Churlinov had a goal ruled out for offside. Alioski had a shot saved, while Churlinov scored an easy goal on the rebound. There was a VAR check, but the call of offside stood: no goal.
A look at Churlinov's offsides goal pic.twitter.com/04iZx07r3Q
— Macedonian Football (@MacedonianFooty) November 14, 2021
The second half started without any changes in both teams. In the opening minutes Milan Ristovski had a penalty appeal, but the Italian referee said no. Moments later, Elmas tried a volley after a decent cross, but his shot was blocked.
Iceland equalized in the 54th minute. A goal pretty much out of nowhere. A cross come in and the ball ended up at Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson who scored to make it 1:1. Back to the start for Macedonia as Romania was leading at Liechtenstein and got to the 2nd place.
That equalized gave wings to the visitors who dominated the minutes after the goal. In the 63rd minute Ashkovski substituted Churlinov who injured his shoulder and could continue.
Two minutes after that change and Macedonia got back in lead. Bardhi took a free kick and created heavy traffic in the visiting box. Alioski had a shot blocked, the ball went back to him, another blocked shot, but the ball found Elmas who make a quick dribble to create space and then scored from close range.
The goals for 2:1 filmed from the press area:
Milevski made a double substitution in the 77th minute: Spirovski and Miovski came on for Trajkovski and Milan Ristovski. Two minutes later Elmas caused a red card. He dribbled past Johannesson who got his second yellow of the game. Iceland got down to 10 men.
The winner was settled four minutes from time as Elmas celebrated a brace. He did his trademark dribbling to create space and then a quality finish. Hit the inside of the post and went in.
The match ended 3:1 for Macedonia and regardless of the Romanian result Macedonia book a place to the play-off. That is happening for the first time in our history as we have never ever ended 2nd in any qualifiers.
In other two matches in our group Germany as expected beat Armenia on the road with 4:1, while Romania also clinched an expected win over Liechtenstein away with 2:0.
Now Macedonia will expect the play-off draw scheduled for 26 November when we will learn our opponent in the first round. The 12 play-off teams will be divided into three paths, each containing four teams, with each play-off path featuring two single-leg semi-finals, and one single-leg final. The play-offs will be played in March 2022.
After the match the Macedonians celebrated in the locker room by singing the popular folk song Zemjo Makedonska (Macedonian Land):
Facts regarding this match:
- 40th appearance for Visar Musliu
- 12th goal for Ezgjan Alioski
- 10th appearance for Stefan Ashkovski
- 9th goals for Elif Elmas