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Qualifiers: Veteran Pandev sends North Macedonia to Euros

November 13, 2020 09:00 IST
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North Macedonia's Goran Pandev celebrates with teammates after scoring their first goal against Georgia at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi, Georgia, on Thursday

IMAGE: North Macedonia's Goran Pandev celebrates with teammates after scoring their first goal against Georgia at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi, Georgia, on Thursday. Photograph: Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

North Macedonia qualified for Euro 2020, the first-ever major tournament in the team's 27-year history, when a second-half goal from 37-year-old forward Goran Pandev gave them a 1-0 win away to Georgia in their playoff on Thursday.

Pandev, his country's most capped player and all-time leading scorer, flicked the ball home in the 56th minute of a tense, scrappy match played on a slippery pitch and was in tears as his team celebrated at the end.

 

Georgia, also hoping to qualify for their first major tournament, lost their composure after the goal and never threatened to get back into the game.

North Macedonia will face Austria, the Netherlands and Ukraine in Group C at Euro 2020, which has been postponed until June-July next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We will play for our nation's pride in the finals," said coach Igor Angelovski.

"Pandev scored a beautiful goal to take us through."

North Macedonia qualified by what some regard as the back door, via the fourth division of UEFA's inaugural Nations League competition, but their players were not going to let that detract from their achievement.

"I am so happy. I've have played in a lot of games like this before and I think my experience helped the team to achieve this success," said Pandev.

With so much at stake, the match was predictably cagey and it took 28 minutes before either goalkeeper had to make a save when Georgian playmaker Tornike Okriashvili tested Stole Dimitrievski with a long-range shot.

Okriashvili also sent a shot swerving narrowly wide of the post as Georgia threatened to take control. But, with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia missing after testing positive for COVID-19, they lacked invention in attack.

There were 29 fouls in a stop-start match and only four shots on target but the neatly-worked winning goal was in contrast to the general scrappiness.

Eljif Elmas broke down the left and slipped the ball to Ilija Nestorovski inside the penalty area and he found Pandev who flicked the ball passed Giorgi Loria for his 36th international goal.

North Macedonia had only one real scare when an intended cross by Okriashvili nearly flew into the top corner but Dimitrievski caught it under the bar and just managed to cling on.

Hungary reach Euro finals with last-gasp 2-1 win over Iceland

Hungary qualified for the Euro 2020 finals with a thrilling 2-1 comeback win over Iceland thanks to a late equaliser from Loic Nego and a stoppage-time winner by Dominik Szoboszlai.

Hungary will join Portugal, France and Germany in Group F at next year's tournament, with the first and third of those games to be played at the Puskas Arena in Budapest.

Iceland had gone ahead when goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi fumbled a Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick into his own net in the 11th minute, prompting a match-long onslaught form the home side.

Playmaker Szoboszlai was key to Hungary's effort, whipping crosses and set pieces into the box, and he almost put his side level just before the break with a long-distance free kick that required a full-stretch dive from Hannes Haldorsson to save.

The Hungarian siege on Iceland's goal continued in the second half, but they struggled to create many decent chances and looked vulnerable on the break as the visitors sought to exploit the space behind the home defence on the counter.

Iceland substitute Albert Gudmundsson almost killed the game off with a late sliding effort but just failed to connect with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson's cross and it was the costliest of misses.

French-born Hungary substitute Nego joined the fray in the 84th minute and he was quickest to a ball that pinged between defenders in the area, slotting home to equalise two minutes from the end of normal time.

Extra time loomed but Szoboszlai had other ideas and capped a superb performance by firing home in the second minute of added time to seal a stunning win and send his side through to the finals, prompting wild celebrations by his team at the end.

Euro 2020, which is being staged across the continent, has been postponed until June-July next year due to COVID-19.

Duris extra-time winner sends Slovakia to Euro 2020

Michal Duris struck an extra-time winner as Slovakia profited from the few chances they had to stun Northern Ireland and 1,060 raucous home fans with a 2-1 victory in their Euro 2020 qualification playoff at Windsor Park on Thursday.

Slovakia led after 17 minutes as George Saville’s wayward header in midfield proved a perfect through ball for Juraj Kucka, who provided a cool finish.

It looked as though that would be the winner until the Irish claimed a dramatic late equaliser when defender Milan Skriniar, who was the visitors’ best player, turned the ball into his own net three minutes from the end of normal time.

But Duris beat home goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell at his near post with a low drive to seal back-to-back European Championship qualifications for Slovakia and a place in Group E at the tournament next year along with Spain, Sweden and Poland.

"There's not a great deal you can say. We couldn't have asked for more effort," Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough told Sky Sports.

"The game plan was put the ball in the box as much as possible and we did that.

"That's the worst I've felt after a game for sure. The players didn't know how to lay down and die. It's tough for me to have any consolation words."

Slovakia were gifted their opener on 17 minutes when Saville attempted a header back to Jonny Evans, but it eluded the centre back and set Kucka bearing down on goal.

It seemed as Northern Ireland were destined for defeat, though, as despite their frenetic possession in the closing stages of the 90 minutes, openings remained at a premium.

But they were level two minutes from fulltime as Paddy McNair’s scintillating run down the right ended with a low cross into the six-yard box, and when Skriniar flung out a boot, he could only direct the ball into his own net.

Gavin Whyte struck the post as the home side finished the stronger, but when the ball ricocheted kindly for Duris off the back of the unlucky Evans in the 110th minute, he rifled in a low shot that eluded Peacock-Farrell.

"It was one of the most important goals of my career," Duris said. "I am so glad we have qualified for the Euro finals again.

"I would like to dedicate this victory to all our fans who believed we would be able to get through."

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