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Beating Malta in Euro 2024 opener a priority for North Macedonia coach

North Macedonia coach Blagoja Milevski addressing the media. Photo: Igor Panevski

Northern Macedonia are hoping to open its Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a win when they host Malta in Skopje.

The North Macedonians, ranked 65th will be hoping to use their squad’s big names to kickstart their campaign in style in a group that also features England, Italy and Ukraine.

So far, the two countries have met six times, with the North Macedonians winning five and drawing the other. Coach Blagoja Milevski said he believes his team has what it takes to maintain their unbeaten streak against Malta.

“Of course, I still believe we are better than Malta,” Milevski told a news conference.

“Macedonia have played in the qualifying play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, have been in the European Championships. We have proven that we are a very strong team. But this is all in the past.

“This is a new cycle now, we are not talking about history anymore. Everything we have done so far, we must prove it again on the field tomorrow (Thursday). Of course, I have full respect for Malta and I hope that we will have a good match.”

Euro 2020 was a breakout tournament for North Macedonia – their debut appearance in a major championship. Despite the qualification, the team struggled to give stalwart Goran Pandev the proper send-off with the side exiting the tournament without a win.

Asked about the tough group his side is about to face as they try to feature in Euros again, Milevski remained diplomatic, explaining that his only focus is Malta.

“At the moment, we are only concentrated on the match tomorrow. For the rest, we can see to them in the future,” the former Maribor player said.

North Macedonia legend Pandev will not be around this time around, after his retirement from the game last year, as the team ushers in a new generation.

Against Malta today, North Macedonia will be banking on the talents of players like Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas and Udinese’s Ilija Nestorovski among other high-class players.

Elmas, the 23-year-old Skopje native, has scored six goals in 26 matches for Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli in the Italian Serie A, during an impressive season which is set to crown them as Italian champions if they manage to maintain their outstanding gap at the top of the table.

However, Milevski played down the team’s emphasis on names like Elmas, pushing toward the team’s performance as a whole.

Milevski went on to show praise towards Malta star Teddy Teuma, a fellow midfielder like Elmas who has been making headlines with his club Royal Union St Gilloise after scoring one of his side’s goals in a historic qualification to the Europa League quarter-finals, as they beat Bundesliga side Union Berlin.

“Individual quality is important but our perception is to focus on the team play,” he said.

“I’m sure that some individual players will shine in the matches, but our focus is again on the whole team and whoever helps the team will be important.

“Malta, as well, has individual quality. They’ve got a very good player playing in Royal Union St Gilloise but I’m sure their focus will also be the team play.”

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