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Preview: First and Second League 2012/13

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Macedonian First LeagueMacedonian First LeagueThe 21st edition of the Macedonian football season starts this week. Vardar will look to defend the title, Pelister returns to the First League, while Drita debuts at the highest division.  The Second League also gets underway as well.

First League

Vardar is once again the favorites to claim the league trophy.  Despite losing top scorer Filip Ivanovski, Vardar added suitable alternatives that should keep the club near the top of the standings.  They have tremendous fan support and the experience gained last year, along with the participation in the Champions League qualifiers earlier this summer, should serve the team well.  In the first round of the 2012/13 season, they will host Rabotnichki at the National Arena Philip II of Macedon.  Vardar will look to open the season on a positive note and aim to defeat its in-city rival.  Prediction in final standings: 1-2.

Metalurg is the team likely to pose the biggest threat to Vardar for first place.  They have bought quality players this summer and have a well balanced squad with a good mix of experienced and young players.  Rumors have been circulating that Metalurg also plans to sign veterans Goran Maznov and Igor Mitreski, which should bolster their squad even further.  In the opening round, they visit Sileks and a win is to be expected, especially if they are serious about contending for the title.  Prediction in final standings: 1-2.

Renova, the reigning Macedonian Cup winners, is another team that could prove to be a legitimate contender this season.  Without major changes from last year's squad, Renova should have good chemistry and stability with the players and coaches.  The club begins the season at home against Napredok, with all home matches set to be played on Saturday.  Renova is the favorite and is expected to open the new season with three points.  Prediction in final standings: 3-4.

Bregalnica has created an interesting club and could very well be the surprise team of the season.  Although results from their summer friendlies have not been the best, Bregalnica has signed several interesting players that could see the club improve upon last season's fifth place finish.  Despite Trajche Senev amassing good results last season, the club management decided to hire Bulgarian Nikola Spasov to once again lead the club from Shtip.  Spasov managed Bregalnica at the start of last season, but then was let go after a slow start.  However, Spasov is back at the helm and will look to improve the results this time around.  Bregalnica will begin the season against newly promoted side Drita and will be targeting three points.  Prediction in final standings: 3-4.

Shkendija lost many players from last season, but recently added some veterans that should prove to be adequate replacements.  There seemed to be turmoil in the club management ranks that led to a change in manager.  Nonetheless, the club has strong home support, several talented youngsters to go along with some experienced players, and that should prove enough to avoid a steep fall in the standings.  In the first round, Shkendija visits Pelister in what should be a tough match since the club from Bitola enters the season with high ambitions.  A draw would seem to be a result that would satisfy both teams.  Prediction in final standings: 5-7.

Despite only staying in the First League through the play-off last season, Teteks has put together a more competitive team that could also challenge for a position that leads to a place in a European competition.  They square off against Horizont Turnovo at home in the first match of the season.  In any case, Teteks could also try to compile good results in the domestic club, as several seasons ago, that led to a place in the Europa League qualifications.  Prediction in final standings: 5-7.

Pelister comes back to the First League after being crowned champions of the second division last season.  They have strong support in Bitola with the fans hungry for some success.  The Pelister squad consists of about 95% local players, many of them coming back this summer, to help the club improve its results.  Pelister is much improved and should surely avoid relegation and the play-off places.  They will begin the season with a home encounter against Shkendija.  Prediction in final standings: 6-8.

For the first time since the summer of 2004, Rabotnichki did not participate in a European competition.  That took a toll on the club's finances and thus many players were allowed to leave, while Rabotnichki only brought in few new players.  Like last season, when the team underachieved, this season's Rabotnichki is likely headed for another mid table finish.  Rabotnichki has a tough start to the season by opening on the road against Vardar in the local Skopje derby.  Prediction in final standings: 6-8.

Napredok is mentioned as one of the candidates for direct relegation every season, but somehow manages to avoid the drop.  This season is no different as well.  With other teams strengthening their squads, coupled with Napredok not making many changes, the club from Kichevo will have an uphill battle this season.  However, the lack of changes could turn out to be a positive with the continuity and chemistry to help Napredok remain in the First League beyond the season.  They open the campaign on the road against Renova. Prediction in final standings: 7-10.

Drita debuts in the First League for the first time in their history.  In the summer transfer window, the club brought several experienced players such as Goran Stankovski, Minas Osmani, Aleksandar Krsteski and Ardijan Nuhiu, who together with the rest of the team, should strive to avoid direct relegation.  However, anything other than a place in the play-off, 9th or 10th place, would be a huge surprise.  Drita will debut in the First League with a home match against Bregalnica Shtip.  Prediction in final standings: 9-12.

Horizont Turnovo didn't make many changes to the squad from last season, but they lost their best player.  Dragan Gjorgiev departed to join the defending champions Vardar.  Without their danger man, Turnovo is likely headed for relegation.  They go on the road to square off against Teteks in the opening round.  Prediction in final standings: 9-12.

Sileks is another team that seems much weaker from last year.  This team, along with Vardar, are the only two teams to play in every edition of the Macedonian First League but that streak is in serious jeopardy this season.  The club lost many of their key players and seems headed for a place near the bottom of the standings.  In the opening round, Sileks faces title contender Metalurg.  Prediction in final standings: 9-12.

Saturday, 11 August 2012:

Gradski stadium in Tetovo, 17.00 CET
Renova vs. Napredok
Referee: Marjan Eckoski (Ohrid)

Sunday, 12 August 2012:

Gradski stadium in Tetovo, 17.00 CET
Teteks vs. Horizont Turnovo
Referee: Stojanche Stojanov (Shtip)

Bogovinje stadium in Bogovinje, 17.00 CET
Drita vs. Bregalnica Shtip
Referee: Goran Spirkoski (Prilep)

Sileks stadium in Kratovo, 17.00 CET
Sileks vs. Metalurg
Referee: Faton Mustafi (Tetovo)

Pod Tumbe Kafe stadium in Bitola, 17.00 CET
Pelister vs. Shkendija
Referee: Aleksandar Stavrev (Skopje)

National Arena Philip II of Macedon in Skopje, 20.00 CET
Vardar vs. Rabotnichki
Referee: Dimitar Mechkarovski (Skopje)

Don't forget to make your predictions in the Prediction League.  To participate, you simply need to be registered (which is free) and then predict results to win valuable prizes.Macedonian Second LeagueMacedonian Second League

Second League

Three of the five teams that were promoted from the Third Leagues will participate for the first time in the Second League this season.  Those teams are Babi, Korzo and Vrapchiste.  However, there are rumors that Korzo might merge with Korab, a club that was relegated last season.  The battle for promotion should be interesting as there are several teams who are serious contenders to win promotion such as 11 Oktomvri, Gorno Lisiche, Makedonija Gjorche Petrov, Miravci and Skopje.  Relegation, on the other hand, is more difficult to predict as many of the remaining teams possess similar quality, which should make for a close race all season.

Saturday, 11 August 2012:

Brvenica stadium in Brvenica, 17.00 CET
Rufeja vs. Vrapchishte
Referee: Igor Cvetkovski (Skopje)

Gradski stadium in Gostivar, 17.00 CET
Gostivar vs. Tikvesh
Referee: Tode Blazhevski (Bitola)

SRC Atina Bojadji in Ohrid, 17.00 CET
Ohrid vs. Pobeda Junior
Referee: Valton Ristemi (Gostivar)

Gorno Lisiche stadium in Skopje, 17.00 CET
Gorno Lisiche vs. Madjari Solidarnost
Referee: Simeon Stefkov (Skopje)

Goce Delchev stadium in Prilep, 17.00 CET
Korzo vs. Miravci
Referee: Vasko Mavrov (Strumica)

Gjorche Petrov stadium in Skopje, 17.00 CET
Makedonija Gjorche Petrov vs. Babi
Referee: Josip Barton (Tetovo)

Lokomotiva stadium in Skopje, 17.00 CET
Lokomotiva vs. Skopje
Referee: Zoran Boshkov (Negotino)

Sunday, 12 August:

Goce Delchev stadium in Prilep, 17.00 CET
11 Oktomvri vs. Novaci
Referee: Dejan Jakimovski (Skopje)

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