Monday marks the end of 2024 European Championship qualifying Group C as North Macedonia and England go head-to-head at National Arena Toshe Proeski.
North Macedonia’s effort to qualify for back-to-back Euro finals came crashing down long ago, but they will still look to bow out in style, especially after a horrendous night in Rome on Friday.
Perhaps bereft of confidence after relinquishing their qualification hopes, the Lynxes slumped to a disastrous 5-2 defeat to familiar foes Italy in their penultimate Euro 2024 qualifier.
That result worsened the North Macedonians’ underwhelming qualifying record (W2, D1, L4), derailing their spirits ahead of this revenge-poised clash against England.
Having already booked tickets to Germany as Group C winners, the Three Lions showed signs of complacency in Friday’s home clash against continental minnows Malta.
On a flat night at Wembley, the beaten Euro 2020 finalists performed well below their standard, as an early own goal and Harry Kane’s eighth strike in the ongoing cycle fired them to an unconvincing 2-0 victory.
Given a substantial gulf in class, fielding an understrength line-up provided no excuse to Gareth Southgate, but his side can redeem themselves in Skopje.
Since a seeded spot in next month’s draw is still open for the taking, motivation should not be in short supply in England’s last fixture of this calendar year.
Despite slipping to an embarrassing 7-0 defeat at Wembley in the reverse fixture, North Macedonia can be an unpleasant host, as evidenced by their spirited 1-1 draw against Italy in September.
Blagoja Milevski’s team eked out a 2-1 win over Malta in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier on home turf before unfathomably giving up a 2-0 half-time lead to lose 3-2 to Ukraine.
However, their scoring exploits on home turf show England must not take anything for granted despite only conceding three goals in their seven Group C outings.
Adding to this sentiment, England’s two previous competitive visits to North Macedonia have yielded wins by single-goal margins, highlighting the potential for a keenly contested encounter.
Southgate probably wouldn’t mind another narrow success, knowing it would likely secure England’s place in pot one, not to mention maintain their almost-perfect record since returning home from Qatar (W8, D1).
The extension of that impressive run of form looks like a virtual certainty, considering the Group C leaders haven’t lost any of their five historic meetings with North Macedonia (W3, D2).
Except for a 1-1 away draw against Ukraine in September, the Three Lions have won all six remaining Euro 2024 qualifying matches by a combined score of 20-2.
That lacklustre draw in Wroclaw remains the only blemish on an otherwise near-flawless five-game record in away Euro qualifiers (W4, D1) and serves as a stark reminder complacency doesn’t pay off.
Napoli star Elif Elmas and Trabzonspor playmaker Enis Bardhi are Milevski’s most trusted allies on the front lines. But watch out for Jani Atanasov, who scored twice off the bench against Italy.
As for England, Nick Pope, John Stones, Luke Shaw, Reece James, Jude Bellingham and James Maddison are high-profile absentees, but Southgate rested several first-team stars against Malta.
Bukayo Saka, Kyle Walker and Declan Rice should return to the starting XI in Skopje.
North Macedonia potential starting line-up:
(3-4-3): Stole Dimitrievski; Stefan Ashkovski, Nikola Serafimov, Visar Musliu; Bojan Dimoski, Jani Atanasov, Agon Elezi, Ezgjan Alioski; Milan Ristovski, Enis Bardhi, Elif Elmas
England potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, Marc Guehi, Harry Maguire, Rico Lewis; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips; Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka.
We Say: North Macedonia 1-2 England
Given North Macedonia’s free-scoring form at home, it’s hard to put it past them to find the net, yet England should overpower them.
A one-goal margin triumph would follow through the narrative of this fixture.
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