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Preview: Macedonia vs. Ukraine

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Macedonia vs. UkraineMacedonia vs. UkraineMacedonia's last home game for the EURO 2016 qualifications will see them host Ukraine on Friday.

Ukraine still has a lot to play for, while Macedonia is only playing for pride at this point. Ukraine is looking to quality automatically for EURO 2016 by finishing in the top-2 of Group C. That will be tough to do since Ukraine does trail second ranked Slovakia by three points. Furthermore, Slovakia holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, if they are tied, and the Slovaks play Luxembourg in the final matchday (likely victory), so Ukraine will need wins and some luck to overcome Slovakia. Still, Ukraine has already clinched third place which means that the worst case scenario for them is to participate in a play-off.

Macedonia's preparations were going smoothly until Wednesday when Arijan Ademi, a key player, learned that he had failed a doping test last month. He then left the national team base to return to his club team in Croatia. Ademi will be facing the fight of his life. He will need to lawyer up after UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against him. If Arijan is unable to clear his name via a B sample, then he is looking at a long ban out of football (anywhere from 2-4 years). UEFA passed very harsh anti-doping measures earlier in the year.

Besides Ademi, Macedonia has not experienced problems after four trainings this week. Nikola Gligorov was nursing an injury, but the coaching staff knew about that in advance. That's why Ostoja Stjepanovic was summoned this past Monday to provide cover for Gligorov. The other defensive midfielders on the current roster are Milovan Petrovic and Armend Alimi.

Macedonia has one final training on Thursday which will occur at the "National Arena Philip II of Macedonia," the site of Friday's qualifier. That will be more of a relaxed atmosphere since most of the game plan and strategy for Ukraine had already been completed by Wednesday.

One potential problem on Thursday is the inevitable questions that will come up about Ademi. The news about Arijan's positive doping test was announced late on Wednesday, so the media didn't have the opportunity to question manager Ljubinko Drulovic or the players. That will be different on Thursday when the team will be peppered with questions about Ademi. We'll see how they handle that situation and whether the Ademi news will be a distraction.

When it comes to the starting lineup, the biggest question marks will be at right-back, one of the defensive midfield spots, the two wingers and center-forward.

Possible starting 11Possible starting 11

Ukraine's main danger comes from wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, so it is imperative that the two wing-backs are sound defensively. That is the main reason why Vladica Brdarovski will likely get preferred to Stefan Ristovski at right-back. Armend Alimi, meanwhile, is expected to be fielded next to Milovan Petrovic in defensive midfield since he is the more in-form player than Ostoja Stjepanovic. The competition for the two wing spots is fierce between Besart Abdurahimi, Ivan Trichkovski, Agim Ibraimi and Stefan Ashkovski, while Aleksandar Trajkovski and Ilija Nestorovski are battling for the starting center-forward position.

The first meeting between Ukraine and Macedonia, back in October of 2014, saw Ukraine win 1:0. The only goal came just before halftime, but Ukraine also missed a penalty early in the 2nd half. Macedonia's lineup in that game can be seen below:

The starters in the first meetingThe starters in the first meeting

Macedonia: Pachovski - Ristovski, Shikov, Damchevski, Alioski - Ademi, Gligorov (86' Stojkov) - Abdurahimi, Trajkovski, Ivanovski (70' Kostovski) - Jahovic (62' Velkoski).

The main goal for Drulovic and the players in these last two games is to avoid last place. Macedonia trails Luxembourg by one point, so they will be aiming to avoid the bottom spot for the second consecutive qualifications. Those are some pretty sorry ambitions, it must be said, but that's the situation Macedonia currently finds itself in.

Macedonia vs. Ukraine will kick-off on Friday at 20:45 CET. UEFA appointed Ovidiu Haţegan of Romania to be the main referee. Many people within the country are fed up with the national team, so it will be interesting to see how many folks show up.


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