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Preview: Croatia vs. Macedonia

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The Macedonian players during Thursday's training; photo: mkd.mkThe Macedonian players during Thursday's training; photo: mkd.mkMacedonia opens the 2014 World Cup qualifications with a tough road fixture against Croatia.  Manager Chedomir Janevski will be making his managerial debut for the national team after taking over from John Toshack last month.

Chedomir Janevski has been a welcome addition by the players who have praised his professional approach and discipline during training.  Several players, in talking with the media, have noticed drastic differences in the intensity, tactical planning and organization under Janevski as opposed to the last two managers in John Toshack and Mirsad Jonuz.  Even though Janevski took over as manager only three weeks ago, he scouted Croatia closely during the EURO 2012 qualifications and Macedonia also sent scouts to watch Croatia in their last match, a friendly against Switzerland on 15 August.

The new manager has also been much different than his predecessors in his dealings with the media.  Janevski has been very secretive about which players he plans on starting in the Croatia game, and has been tight lipped in his conversations with the media both in Macedonia and Croatia. 

Macedonia is relatively healthy heading into the Croatia match as the two players who withdrew from the squad due to injuries, first Aleksandar Todorovski and then Stefan Ristovski, were both backup players who were not likely to play in the Croatia match in the first place.  Meanwhile, the national team will also be without the services of veteran midfielder Veliche Shumulikoski who will be serving the second and final game of his suspension.  The ban came for his actions towards a referee after he was given a red card during the EURO 2012 qualifier against Armenia on 7 October 2011.  All of the other summoned players have participated in training and are available to Janevski.

"I am not afraid of Croatia, but I am afraid of Syria instead. It is dangerous to go there at this moment. Croatia is a favorite but we will also play offensive football. Our goal will be to score. We are not afraid. We didn't come to Syria, but rather Croatia to play football." - said Chede Janevski.

As for Croatia, three players withdrew from their squad due to injuries in defender Dejan Lovren, midfielder Milan Badelj and striker Mladen Petrić.  Croatia is ranked #9 in the FIFA World Rankings and had a good showing in the EURO 2012 tournament, despite finishing third in its group, by holding their own against the likes of Italy and Spain while dismantling Ireland.  Croatia, however, has a new coach for this qualification cycle so this is the best time to face them as they make the transition to a new manager.  In their first game under Igor Štimac, Croatia lost 4:2 in a friendly against Switzerland.

"I have never been afraid of anything - I don't see why I should be afraid of one match. I am here to share my knowledge and experience with the players and to help them deal with whatever this match brings. I never underestimated any of my opponents, so will not do so with Macedonia. However, a good start is very important for us because it will create a good atmosphere. The start is especially important in Croatia because as a nation our mood can veer from euphoria to cataclysm in one second. Now we are looking to go to Belgium in a positive spirit. We will play against Macedonia like it is a World Cup final." said Croatian national team coach Igor Štimac.

To date, Macedonia and Croatia have faced off six times resulting in three Croatian wins, two draws and one Macedonian win.  The goal difference stands at just +1 for Croatia during those six matches.

Past meetings:

EURO 2000 qualifications
14.10.1998 Croatia - Macedonia 3:2 match report
05.06.1999 Macedonia - Croatia 1:1 match report

EURO 2008 qualifications
24.03.2007 Croatia - Macedonia 2:1 match report
17.11.2007 Macedonia - Croatia 2:0 match report

Friendlies
09.02.2003 Croatia - Macedonia 2:2 match report
28.04.2004 Macedonia - Croatia 0:1 match report

The Croatia vs. Macedonia match gets underway at 20:15 CET on Friday at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb.  Alon Yefet from Israel will be the main referee assigned by FIFA, while his two assistants will be fellow countrymen Amihay Moses and Abel Al Ramili.

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