Macedonia collected its first win of the 2014 World Cup qualifications with a gutsy performance to down Serbia thanks to a converted penalty by Agim Ibraimi.
Manager Chedomir Janevski made seven changes from the squad that faced Croatia last Friday. Although missing its best player in the suspended Goran Pandev, and also Goran Popov who didn't even make the bench after Janevski expressed his displeasure with the lack of concentration by the defender in the previous game, Macedonia responded with a solid team performance. The defense was organized, disciplined and the team in general played inspired football.
The first half went back and forth with both Macedonia and Serbia exchanging possession, but there were minimal scoring opportunities. Serbia mainly threatened through long distance free kicks by Aleksandar Kolarov, coming close in the 28th minute when his effort hit the side netting. For Macedonia, the best chance of the half fell to Mirko Ivanovski who received a good ball over the top by defender Boban Grncharov in the 43rd minute but his effort from a good position went wide of the goal.
The second half saw more of the same with the teams exchanging possession and the referee whistling for a number of fouls in the middle of the pitch. Ivanovski created some space in the 51st minute but his shot ended up way over the goal. The breakthrough didn't come until the 58th minute when the lively Agim Ibraimi played a nice ball to Ferhan Hasani who chested down the ball before he was fouled by Nenad Tomović inside the area. The referee immediately pointed to the spot and gave Tomović a red card for committing the foul from behind, clearly preventing a goalscoring opportunity. Ibraimi stepped up and calmly converted the penalty with a left footed effort past keeper Zeljko Brkić.
The Macedonian crowd got louder and tried to push Macedonia into getting another goal. However, a lack of concentration in the 63rd minute almost led to an equalizer. Dušan Tadić dribbled past several Macedonian players to find himself inside the penalty area but his shot went wide of the goal. On the other end, after a string of good passes, Hasani unleashed an effort from the edge of the area that was blocked by a Serbian defender. Despite being a man down, Serbia pushed forward but the Macedonian side was well organized and thwarted most opportunities. Serbia did, however, create one good chance in the 85th minute but goalkeeper Tome Pachovski made a good save to deny Ljubomir Fejsa.
After five minutes of stoppage time, the referee from the Netherlands blew his whistle to signal the end of the game. The Macedonian players went to their knees and exhaled to celebrate a much needed win.
Besides the win, which is the most important thing, another positive to take from this match was that manager Chedomir Janevski made a statement by benching both Goran Popov and Stevica Ristikj. Even if you play your club football in England, as Popov does, if you lack concentration and make mistakes, you will not play for the national team. Janevski sent a loud message that no player is guaranteed a place on the starting lineup, regardless of where they play their club football.
The negative from the game is that four Macedonian players were shown yellow cards, two of which (Daniel Georgievski and Nikola Gligorov) collected their second bookings of the qualification campaign which means they are suspended for the next match against Belgium, to be played next March.
Macedonia - Serbia 1:0 (0:0)
Scorer: Agim Ibraimi 59' (pen)
Macedonian lineup: Pachovski; Georgievski; Grncharov, Noveski, Lazevski; Gligorov, Demiri (87' Shumulikoski); Hasani, Tasevski (73' Trichkovski), Ibraimi; Ivanovski (90'+1 Ristovski).
To viw the complete match report, click here.
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