Matchday 8 is upon us in Group J of the 2022 World Cup qualifications with a mouth-watering clash featuring mighty Germany visiting underdog Macedonia.
The Germans will undoubtedly be seeking revenge after losing the reverse fixture 1:2 in Duisburg back in March of this year. However, that was not a smash and grab win. Macedonia fully deserved the 3 points and outplayed Germany. Germany was even given a soft penalty for their lone goal in that match, but the football gods rewarded Macedonia with a late winner that was totally justified on that day in March.
A lot of things have changed in the months since. Both national teams have new head coaches. Hansi Flick now leads the Germans, while Blagoja Milevski is in charge of the Macedonians. Both Flick and Milevski took over after EURO 2020, which was played in 2021, replacing long tenured coaches in Joachim Low and Igor Angelovski, respectively.
So, realistically, that shock result in March means very little when we think about today’s match. Germany was beginning to tune out Low near the end of his tenure. They are much sharper and crisper under Flick, while Macedonia is also considerably different under Milevski. Macedonia now plays more brave and possession oriented football than it ever did under Angelovski.
Milevski has said that his philosophy will not change, regardless of opponent, so we will find out later today whether that is indeed true.
From the 11 Macedonian starters of that historic win back in March, 9 are with the current squad, while 2 will not be available today. The two who miss out were actually the creators of the first goal. Bardhi assisted Pandev for the opening goal. Bardhi is currently out injured, while Pandev has retired from the national team. However, the two creators of the game winning goal, Ademi and Elmas, will be available and big things are needed from both.
Germany will see several changes from the first meeting too. Neuer is expected to replace ter Stegen in goal, the defense is much different now (back-4 is expected to be Hofmann, Süle, Rüdiger and Kehrer; back in March it was Can, Ginter, Rüdiger and Gosens), the midfield no longer has Gündoğan who scored the lone goal in March from a penalty, while the attack should be similar with maybe one exception, that being Thomas Müller.
Earlier today, I watched Germany – Romania from this past Friday. Romania took the lead when Ianis Hagi nutmegged Rudiger before scoring. Rüdiger was also nutmegged in March when Ademi dribbled between Rudiger’s legs before setting up Elmas. Germany came back to beat Romania 2:1, but I did not see an invincible side.
I believe we have a chance to shock them again later today. Is it a guarantee? No, of course not. A lot of things will need to go our way, but Germany is not the dominant side from several years ago. They lack a classic #9 these days. Against Romania, Timo Werder started as the #9, but Timo is very streaky. His finishing is mostly not up to par. Now, could he prove prolific in his finishing later today? Sure, it is possible. If that happens, then obviously it will be a long day for us. However, the odds are against that based on his track record. Germany could opt to start Havertz or Thomas Muller in Werner’s place, but even those players are not classic #9’s.
Germany is absolutely the favorite for today’s fixture which means our players really have nothing to lose once again. They have only to gain. If they lose, it is expected. But, if they draw or win again, they will be legends who did the unthinkable twice against mighty Germany.
I am at peace with whatever happens in this game. It is unrealistic to expect anything but a loss today, but why not be greedy and dream? That is, after all, the spirit of sports.
October 11 is a national holiday in Macedonia. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, stadium capacity has been set at half. That means about 17,000 fans will be present who should still make decent noise. The big unknown is what impact will the rain have on the playing surface? A lot of rain has fallen in Skopje over the past few days, and more rain is in the forecast for Monday. As a matter of fact, it is expected to rain throughout the match.
How will the pitch handle all that rain? Will it be one of those cases where even making a simple pass leads to a water splash on the follow through? If that is the case, then we would have a lot of unknowns.
Germany tends not to lose many World Cup qualifiers in general, let alone twice to the same opponent in the same qualifying cycle. I see no chance of them overlooking us after the first result. Instead, they will absolutely be seeking revenge to amend that loss. They were embarrassed, so now they will try to embarrass us. The rain impact on the pitch is a potential game changer. We will see. Our players are playing with house money since all the pressure is on Germany again. A draw or a win would be an absolute bonus. To the players, just do your best and whatever happens, happens. Be brave and do not have too much respect for Germany. If Germany wins, make them earn it. Do not hand it to them with silly mistakes/errors.
Prediction: Macedonia 0:2 Germany