Spain vs. Macedonia

Preview: Spain vs. Macedonia

Spain vs. MacedoniaMacedonia opens EURO 2016 qualifying on Monday when they take on Spain in the city of Valencia.

The start of a new qualifying campaign always brings excitement to football fans around the world.  That is no different this time as countries around Europe get set to embark on the long process of qualifying for the EURO 2016 tournament, to be held in France.

Macedonia was drawn in a group that features one powerhouse in Spain along with other national teams such as Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus and Luxembourg.  Although Macedonia is considerably weaker on paper with the retirement of Goran Pandev and Nikolche Noveski, there is still hope and optimism that comes with every qualifying campaign.  Manager Boshko Gjurovski has said that he is targeting a third place finish, a position that would lead to a spot in the play-off.  As a reminder, EURO 2016 will feature 24 teams, up from 16 in the previous editions of the tournament.  UEFA made the decision to increase the number of teams to make the qualifying process more interesting, but also to generate extra revenue with the additional games.

Things have changed considerably since the draw for EURO 2016 qualifying took place in February of 2014.  Spain has seen numerous mainstays on its team retire following their disappointing performance in the World Cup earlier in the summer.  Now, many of those players retired due to age, but Spain will undoubtedly look very different in these qualifications.  Furthermore, Ukraine has also experienced problems due to the safety situation deteriorating in their country.  There has been constant fighting over the past couple of months, and that caused the start of their domestic league to be pushed back.  Additionally, numerous foreign players left their league, leading to the quality to drop.  Due to the safety situation, Ukraine’s national team can only play games in the cities of Kyiv or Lviv.  All other cities are banned from hosting matches.  We’ll see how this situation affects Ukraine.

Now, going back to Spain vs. Macedonia, the visitors are missing regulars such as Goran Pandev and Nikolche Noveski (both retired from national team), Daniel Georgievski, Goran Popov and Mirko Ivanovski (all left out due to their club situation), Arijan Ademi and Ostoja Stjepanovikj (injury) and Ivan Trichkovski (not physically ready to contribute). 

The Macedonian manager currently has 23 players at his disposal, all of which have been capped by Macedonia in the past.  The main question for Boshko Gjurovski is to decide what the formation will look like on Monday.  In a friendly against CF Torre Levante Torriols on Thursday, Gjurovski fielded what looked to be a 3-4-2-1 formation.  Will he go with a similar look in the Spain game?  Based on the personnel, that may be the best formation.  Stefan Ristovski likes to go forward so putting him at right wing-back would allow him to attack more.  The midfield options are also lacking, so putting three CB’s and two wing-backs allows the Macedonian side to hide some of those shortcomings.  The problem with the three CB’s, though, is the lack of speed.  Vanche Shikov, Daniel Mojsov and Aleksandar Damchevski are all big, tall guys, but they all lack speed.  Ristovski has good speed on the right side, while of the left-back/left wing-back options, Ezgjan Alioski has the most quickness and speed when compared to Ardian Cuculi and Darko Glishikj.  So, does Gjurovski start with Alioski on the left side, or end up going with Cuculi, Glishikj or even Kire Ristevski (who plays CB for his club team but has also featured at LB)?  We shall see on Monday.

In midfield, Gjurovski has to decide whether to start both Muhamed Demiri and Stefan Spirovski, or just one of them and thus field an extra attacking minded player in their place.  Agim Ibraimi is a lock to start on the wing, while the likes of Aleksandar Trajkovski, Ferhan Hasani, Adis Jahovikj, Jovan Kostovski and Besart Abdurahimi are competing with each other for the final few spots in attack.

As for Spain, they will be without midfielder Andres Iniesta and striker Diego Costa as they both withdrew due to injuries.  Also, as previously mentioned, many key contributors such as Xavi Hernández, David Villa and Xabi Alonso retired from the national team following the World Cup.  Those were crucial players for Spain for a long time, but now a new generation will have to step up.  Prominent players such as Fernando Torres and Gerard Piqué were healthy exclusions as they were dropped from the squad by manager Vicente del Bosque.

Regardless of what happens on Monday, Macedonia is catching Spain at a good time.  Spain is still the heavy favorite and superior to the Macedonian squad, but there are some legitimate questions.  As of late, there has been some turmoil within the ranks as Spain has not looked good over the past couple of games.  They did not attempt a single shot on goal in the recent friendly against France.  The fans are restless as many of them have been spoiled by Spain’s success over the past decade.  Spain’s attack is very young and unproven heading into the Macedonia game, so hopefully that will bode well for the Macedonian defenders.  If Macedonia is to achieve a positive result (say a draw), this is the time to do it.  Spain is breaking in many new players and it may take some time for them to gel as a team.  Furthermore, the longer this game stays tied, the more pressure that the Spanish players will feel from the restless crowd.

Since Macedonia is not a premier opponent, the Spanish federation decided that the home venue of Levante UD, “Estadi Ciutat de València,” will host this qualifier.  Meanwhile, UEFA announced earlier in the week that Greek referees will officiate the game.  Hopefully this won’t lead to any questionable decision making by the referees since Spain, even a weakened one, does not need any extra help.  UEFA would have been wise to just avoid all of this by not appointing a Greek referee for any game involving Macedonia, but since it did happen, it is everyone’s hope that professionalism wins out and that politics are kept outside of football.

This will be the 4th meeting between Macedonia and Spain.  They met twice as part of the EURO 1996 qualifications, plus one friendly back in August of 2009.  Spain has won all three games, with the goal margin being 8:2.  In the first meeting, interestingly, Boshko Gjurovski played the full 90 minutes.

Here are the match reports of those previous meetings:

12.10.1994: Macedonia – Spain 0:2
15.11.1995: Spain – Macedonia 3:0
12.08.2009: Macedonia – Spain 2:3

What should the Macedonian formation look like on Monday?  Also, what is your prediction for the score of the game?  Let us know in the comments section (and please let’s keep the conversation civil and without name calling).

This is the formation we would start. As for score prediction, Spain 2:0 Macedonia.

UPDATE: Macedonia announced earlier on Sunday that Ferhan Hasani will miss the Spain match due to an injury that he sustained in training.  Gjurovski did confirm that he planned to start Hasani, but now somebody else will be given a chance.

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