BUCHAREST: North Macedonia can be proud of their performance in the country’s first appearance on the big stage despite a 3-1 defeat by Austria in their opening Euro 2020 Group C clash, coach Igor Angelovski said.
The Balkan nation of two million people which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 held their own for long spells after their 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev cancelled out Stefan Lainer’s early opener.
The Austrians moved up a gear in the final 20 minutes, however, and prevailed thanks to goals from substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic as their opponents ran out of steam.
“There is always lingering disappointment when you lose a match but I can only be proud of the players who reached Euro 2020 and they can hold their heads high,” Angeloski told a news conference.
“I am so happy for Goran because he scored an historic first goal for North Macedonia at the Euros but we must now turn our attention to the remaining two group matches.” Angeloski told an online news conference.
“I am also at a loss of words to describe how I feel about the fantastic atmosphere our fans generated. We played against a team that never stops running and tried to close them down as much as we could.”
It was North Macedonia’s third successive defeat by the Austrians who did the double over them in European Championship qualifying and Pandev acknowledged they were outmuscled.
“We played well for 70 minutes but Austria are physically much stronger than us and they have a deep bench,” he said.
“Playing our first ever European Championship game was a massive experience and there was no way back after we conceded an unfortunate third goal in the closing stages.
“We have to get some rest now as we’re still in with a chance. We face a difficult next match against Ukraine and we have to take the game to them and go all out for a win because we have nothing to lose.”
Pandev also became the second-oldest player to score in a European championship behind Austria’s former striker Ivica Vastic, who was 38 when he netted against Poland in the 2008 tournament.
North Macedonia play the Ukrainians in Bucharest on Thursday and face the Netherlands in Amsterdam on June 21.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ed Osmond)