Former North Macedonia and Mainz player Nikolce Noveski is full of hope and optimism ahead of the Euros this summer. And why shouldn't he be? The nation has qualified for the first major tournament in its history, after overcoming Georgia 1-0 in the Euro 2020 play-off final.
Noveski played 64 times for North Macedonia during his career, scoring five goals from centre-back between 2004 and 2013. Though he didn't qualify for a tournament while he represented his country, he'll be eagerly watching on at his compatriots this summer.
"It’s our first time at a major tournament," Noveski said. "The coach has said that he wants to get out of the group and I think that’s courageous. We showed against Germany that we can beat the big teams. We’ll have to see if we can do it again at the Euros.
Entering the European Championship for the first time in their history, North Macedonia are one of the smallest nations in the tournament this year. With a population of just over two million people, the country will play in a group that contains Austria, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.
"I think if we bring our best performance, we can reach the second round. We need to avoid injuries. We need everyone to perform and we might need a little luck too. We need to win a game and get points on the board. Anything is possible in football."
During Noveski's international career he played with North Macedonian icon Goran Pandev a number of times. 37-year-old Pandev, who won the Champions League in 2010 with Inter Milan, first played for his country in 2001, and has racked up 119 appearances since. Noveski underlines the importance of North Macedonia's greatest ever player.
"He is incredibly important for the team. For the young players but also for the senior ones. They all look up to him. He has so much quality and was the key reason Macedonia have reached this Euros. He led us there. Now he wants to lead us to a successful tournament.
When asked if the forward is similar in stature to David Beckham in England, Noveski is reluctant to compare him.
"It’s difficult to compare Pandev with anyone else. His legacy will live on forever in Macedonian football."
While many are unconvinced that North Macedonia will even pick up a point in their three group matches at Euro 2020, finishing as one of the six best third-placed teams offers a glimmer of hope for the nation hoping to capitalise on the opportunity ahead of them at the tournament.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1