FYR Macedonia coach Mirsad Jonuz has charged his side with earning "nine or ten points" in their UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying section – even though they face England, Portugal and Greece in Group 9.
With only six members of the squad that competed in the 2009 qualifiers still eligible – goalkeeper Kristijan Naumovski, defenders Aleksandar Lazevski and Daniel Georgievski, midfielder Dusan Simovski, and forwards Agim Ibraimi and Dragan Gjorgiev – Jonuz has been scouring the world for talent and believes he may have the makings of a good team.
Midfielder Sevdail Selmani is at Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Samir Fazli signed for SC Heerenveen this winter, while Aleksandar Lazevski plays for FK Partizan. Swedish-born FC Internazionale Milano striker Goran Slavkovski will miss the opening qualifier, but Real Betis Balompié midfielder Marko Pavlov – son of former FK Vardar player Dragan 'Gega' Pavlov – could be a star attraction having gained permission to represent his father's country after playing for Iceland at youth level.
Jonuz told uefa.com: "I think we have a good team but the biggest problem is the form of the players and whether these talented boys get to play for their clubs. Almost half of them are not in the first team and that's an issue. In a lot of cases club coaches decide not to give young players a chance, so they have to prove their quality in national-team matches."
Jonuz's side picked up nine points in the last qualifying campaign, which pitted them against Switzerland, the Netherlands and Norway, but getting a similar total this time looks a much tougher order. England, Portugal and Greece – whom they meet in their first fixture on Saturday 28 March – will challenge them for a place at the 2011 finals in Denmark.
Macedonian results have been up and down over the last year. They won away friendlies versus Albania (1-0) and Montenegro (3-0), drew 0-0 at home to Bulgaria, but then lost 3-0 at home against Albania and 2-1 in Croatia. Jonuz hopes the standard of opponent his team will face in Group 9 will help raise their game.
"We have a tough but very attractive group, with great teams like England and Portugal, and I think that will be a great motivation for my young players," said Jonuz, who celebrates his 47th birthday on 9 April. "Our main goal is to get nine or ten points. It will be very hard but we believe we can do it and, if we do, it will be fantastic."
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