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Preview: Macedonia vs. Spain

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Macedonia vs. Spain PreviewMacedonia vs. Spain PreviewCharacter. Commitment. Guts. After the dismal showing in Luxembourg, we'll find out what these players are made of in their response from adversity.

Tough times reveal the true character of a person, and that will be on display for the Macedonian players on Tuesday. The past two days have not been easy for them. They have been called nasty names and ridiculed for the 1:0 loss to Luxembourg. What awaits next is only the best team in the world, Spain. Regardless of the FIFA World Rankings, which have many flaws, Spain remains the best national team on the planet.

After the suspensions to Stefan Ristovski and Besart Abdurahimi (both for yellow cards) and injury to Daniel Mojsov (doubtful), Macedonia was only down to 18 available players. That included 3 goalkeepers and only 15 field players. Therefore, manager Ljubinko Drulovic extended an invitation to four more call-ups on Saturday. U21 regulars Gjoko Zajkov, Boban Nikolov, Enis Bardhi and Marjan Radeski were promoted to join the senior squad. Radeski and Bardhi have already been capped by the "A" team, while Zajkov and Nikolov will be hoping to make their debuts.

The 22 available players for Spain:

Goalkeepers (3): Tome Pachovski, Stole Dimitrievski, Daniel Bozhinovski

Defenders (6): Vladica Brdarovski, Vanche Shikov, Kire Ristevski, Gjoko Zajkov, Leonard Zuta, Ezgjan Alioski.

Midfielders (9): Nikola Gligorov, Milovan Petrovic, Boban Nikolov, Aleksandar Trajkovski, Ferhan Hasani, Agim Ibraimi, Stefan Ashkovski, Muarem Muarem, Enis Bardhi.

Forwards (4): Mirko Ivanovski, Bazhe Ilijoski, Krste Velkoski, Marjan Radeski.

This qualifier against Spain is a gut check. What are these players all about? Ljubinko Drulovic has been angry at the lack of commitment and consistency from the so called "stars" on this team. In particular, he called out Aleksandar Trajkovski and Agim Ibraimi after the Luxembourg fixture. He said the performance of both players disappointed him, and he didn't regret taking them out in the 2nd half.

Just think about it. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, the job of the three guys behind the center-forward are to create chances themselves and to provide service to the CF. Trajkovski and Ibraimi did none of that throughout the whole match against what is considered an inferior opponent. Meanwhile, Besart Abdurahimi (who rarely plays for his club) came up with the two best chances in the 53rd and 85th minute (penalty), but his bad form meant that his finishing was off. There is really no excuse for the dismal showings of Trajkovski or Ibraimi.

Despite the lack of impressive options behind them, Drulovic could decide to bench Trajkovski and/or Ibraimi on Tuesday. That is now back-to-back games (the other being Slovakia) that both guys have under-performed. Drulovic may look to send a message that nobody is guaranteed to start, regardless of where they play their club football. Playing time must be earned, not given.

It's easy to get motivated for Spain, while it's the opposite when you face Luxembourg. However, a true professional doesn't look at the name of the opponent. Instead, they prepare for each game with the mindset that "that one" is the most important.

There must be a level of accountability. That starts at the top, among the stars of the team. If they are setting a bad example, then that trickles down to the rest of the squad. That is why Drulovic must address this issue ASAP, and make it clear to everybody that no single player is above the team. You can't play when you want. You have to bring it every time, or you won't play. That has to be the message, and it must be made loud and clear, with no exceptions.

Every footballer wants to face a team like Spain, so a benching in this type of game could be very effective in getting a message across. We'll see what Drulovic plans to do with Trajkovski and Ibraimi.

Another question mark will be who starts at right-back. With Stefan Ristovski out of the picture, it will come down to Vladica Brdarovski or Ezgjan Alioski. Brdarovski rarely plays at Vardar since he is the backup to Hovhannes Hambardzumyan, so Drulovic may be inclined to start Alioski, a natural left-back. However, most wing-backs can play on either side. For example, Chedomir Janevski would often switch up the wing-backs and they would be asked to feature on both the right and left side. Alioski is likely to be given the nod over Brdarovski.

Possible starters, if Drulovic benches Trajkovski and IbraimiPossible starters, if Drulovic benches Trajkovski and Ibraimi

The four U21 call-ups are not expected to play, unless the game gets out of hand (a legitimate possibility). Zajkov, Nikolov, Bardhi and Radeski were mainly added as extra bodies since Macedonia did not have enough field players to play a simulated game in training. Plus, Drulovic will use the opportunity to observe the quality of the players for future call-ups. Thus far, none of the guys have been summoned by Drulovic. As a reminder, back in June, Drulovic did a similar thing by calling up Darko Velkovski during the week leading up to the Slovakia qualifier to observe his game.

Spain arrived in Macedonia on Sunday night. They will have one training on Monday before the actual game follows the next day. Spain looked very impressive this past Saturday by beating Slovakia 2:0. That meant that Slovakia's perfect record came to an end.

The first meeting between Macedonia and Spain was one sided. In September of 2014, Spain won 5:1 in the first matchday of these qualifications.

Macedonia vs. Spain will get underway at 20:45 CET on September 8, a special day in Macedonia. That happens to be Independence Day. A sell-out crowd is expected. In addition to the Independence Day festivities, former national team mainstay Nikolche Noveski will be honored and recognized for his contributions to Macedonian football. Paolo Tagliavento from Italy was given the assignment by UEFA to be the main referee.


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