- FYR Macedonia registered their worst-ever ranking position in 2017
- * * Huge leap forward in early 2018
- * * U-21s providing hope for the future
Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, thus denying veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon one last moment on the biggest stage of all, made headlines around the world. What far fewer fans realise is that FYR Macedonia played a key part in this drama.
Last October, coach Igor Angelovski’s team forced a 1-1 draw in Turin in a World Cup qualifier. Italy had already flirted with disaster in the reverse fixture in Skopje a year earlier, with an injury-time strike from Ciro Immobile finally securing the four-time world champions a 3-2 win. Eventual group winners Spain prevailed by a similarly slim margin in Macedonia as they recorded a 2-1 victory.
FYR Macedonia facts
- Biggest win: 11-1 against Liechtenstein
- Biggest defeat: 6-1 against Czech Republic
- Match record: 218 games, 61 wins, 55 draws, 102 losses
- Yet to record a win against CAF teams (5 games) and OFC sides (1 game)
- Most-capped player: Goce Sedloski (100 international caps)
- Record goalscorer: Goran Pandev (31 goals)
Surprising results against big names have become something of a specialty in FYR Macedonia, as England (2-2 in Southampton in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying, 0-0 in Manchester in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying) and the Netherlands (2-2 in Skopje and 0-0 in Amsterdam in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification) will painfully recall.
Despite these highlights, the fact remains that a team celebrating 25 years of international history in 2018 have yet to reach a major tournament due to their tendency to drop points against smaller nations. The Red Lynxes have never finished higher than fourth in any World Cup or European qualifying group.
FYR Macedonia came closest to featuring at a major tournament in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Although they were still in contention at the start of the final matchday, a 2-1 defeat by Norway consigned them to fourth place in their group. Two years earlier they recorded their first win against a side in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking by beating Croatia 2-0 in UEFA EURO 2008 qualification, a result that lifted them to an all-time high of 46th in the rankings.
FYR Macedonia in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Current position: 73rd
- Highest position: 46th (2008)
- Lowest position: 166th (2017)
Despite plummeting to their lowest-ever ranking of 166th in March 2017 after recording seven defeats and a solitary win, the team from southeastern Europe began to turn things around last year. Five victories, three draws and just a single defeat – the 2-1 loss to Spain – enabled them to jump back up to 73rd in the world.
"I believe in the quality of our players, as they have already shown that they can compete against some of the world’s biggest teams," said head coach Angelovski, who was appointed in October 2015 after becoming the youngest coach to win the domestic championship in 2014 at the age of 38 while in charge of FK Rabotnicki.
The former midfielder is currently relying on a blend of experienced veterans such as record goalscorer Goran Pandev, who won the 2010 UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup with Inter Milan, and talented youngsters like 18-year-old Elif Elmas, who signed for Fenerbahce at the start of the current season.
There are signs that FYR Macedonia could rise further through the rankings in future. Last summer the U-21s became the country’s first representatives at a major international tournament when they featured at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Poland, qualifying ahead of a France side that included Corentin Tolisso, Aymeric Laporte, Adrien Rabiot, Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar.