2022 World Cup qualifying resumes on Friday when Macedonia faces Liechtenstein on the road. Make no mistake, this is a must win game if 2nd place in the group is to be attained.
If everything goes well on Friday, Macedonia could end the day in 2nd place. For that to happen, we would need to beat Liechtenstein (certainly doable), Romania would need to lose at Germany (certainly doable as well), and Armenia would need to draw or lose at Iceland (certainly doable too). So, Friday could be a great day if the above three things happen.
Now, will that happen is a different proposition.
First things first, Macedonia has to take care of business against Liechtenstein, an opponent that our team is very familiar with. Everyone knows what Liechtenstein attempts to do. They will park the bus, be compact defensively and try to hold off for as long as possible. Such a strategy rarely works (Liechtenstein tends to lose the majority of their games), but sometimes it does.
Last month, Macedonia played more brave and possession oriented football under coach Blagoja Milevski than they did under former boss Igor Angelovski, but that did not translate to goals. Only two goals in three fixtures last month, both coming from defenders, one by central defender Darko Velkovski and one by left-back Gjanni Alioski. Two games resulted in 0:0 draws (the home games against Armenia and Romania).
The finishing in the final third, especially, left a lot to be desired. That is why this game on Friday is no slam dunk. Liechtenstein will defend with all 11 in their own half, so breaking them down will be challenging, regardless of their lack of quality. Furthermore, our current strikers lack a nose for goal which reared its ugly head last month. If that continues this month, we very well could be in for another lackluster goalless draw.
To make matters worse, Enis Bardhi has been ruled out for the encounters against Liechtenstein and Germany (on 11 October) due to an injury. That is the last player you want missing against a bunker side like Liechtenstein. With an opponent sitting deep and parking the bus, oftentimes a breakthrough can come from set pieces, whether a free kick or corner kick. Not only is Bardhi a tremendous free kick taker, but he also provides great service on free kicks (when not in shooting range) and corner kicks as well. His absence is just a massive blow.
Visar Musliu, a regular starter at CB, will also be missing on Friday with a yellow cards suspension (two yellow cards in two separate games lead to a one match suspension which is why Musliu will be out). Meanwhile, a number of key players are a yellow card away from getting suspended for the Germany clash next Monday. Stefan Ristovski, Velkovski, Alioski, Elmas and Nikolov must be smart and not pick up a yellow. Otherwise, they will be suspended for the Germany match which would not be good from our perspective.
The good news is that Arijan Ademi is back after missing last month with an injury. Arijan just makes things happen, so I would play him further up the pitch against an opponent like Liechtenstein. He is a good finisher and regularly seems to be in the right place at the right time. The main concern remains the center forwards. They have just not been impressive, not Milan Ristovski nor Adis Jahovikj. Ilija Nestorovski, who would be the starter at CF when healthy, remains out with a torn ACL that he suffered in April earlier this year.
Macedonia should win on Friday. I would be shocked if we do not keep a clean sheet. However, there is no guarantee we will score a goal given our shortcomings in the final third right now. The longer it stays goalless, the more the pressure will intensify. An early goal would go a long way, but the first goal is always the toughest to get when you face extremely defensive teams. Maybe a penalty could prove decisive. 0:0 draw, 0:1 win or 0:2 win are the most likely scorelines.
Prediction: Liechtenstein 0:1 Macedonia
Past encounters: (G10 W9 D1 L0 GD 38:5)
24.04.1996 3:0 win (match report) Q
09.11.1996 11:1 win (match report) Q
08.09.2002 1:1 draw (match report) Q
07.06.2003 3:1 win (match report) Q
12.11.2005 2:1 win (match report) F
24.03.2017 3:0 win (match report) Q
09.10.2017 4:0 win (match report) Q
13.10.2018 4:1 win (match report) NL
16.11.2018 2:0 win (match report) NL
28.03.2021 5:0 win (match report) Q