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Macedonians in form for second century

Published: Thursday 22 January 2015, 12.27CET
The Football Federation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was awarded UEFA membership in 1994 and celebrated 100 years of football in August 2009.
Macedonians in form for second century
FYR Macedonia celebrate a goal in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Thursday 22 January 2015, 12.27CET

Macedonians in form for second century

The Football Federation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was awarded UEFA membership in 1994 and celebrated 100 years of football in August 2009.

Football in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia dates back to the early 20th century, with the first recorded match taking place in Skopje in April 1909. When the Napredak team defeated a side drawn from the ranks of the British army, a football-shaped monument was erected to commemorate the historic event.

The territory was then under Turkish control, although 1903 had seen, albeit briefly, the creation of the region's first Balkan republic – the short-lived Krushevo Republic – yet by 1913 Turkish rule had ended and the country was split into three areas: Egeean, Pirins and Varders. From 1913 to 1943, FYR Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia; it became a republic in 1943 and an independent country in 1991.

The first football club to emerge were FK Vardar from Skopje in 1912, ten years before FK Belasica GC and FK Bregalnica Stip were founded. During the Second World War, Macedonian representative teams played against German army sides and also against Bulgaria, yet there was no official national squad until after independence in 1991.

However, local talent still caught the eye as a number of quality players tasted international football with Yugoslavia, among them: Kiril Simonovski-Dzina, Blagoje Vidinic, Metodija Spasovski, Andon Doncevski, Darko Pancev and Ilija Najdoski.

In 1945, football was represented for the first time in the All-Sports Community in Skopje, a state of affairs that lasted until the Macedonian Football Association was created in August 1948. This body became a member of the larger Yugoslav Football Association (FSJ) until 1991, at which point the Football Federation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FFM) was born.

The country's first championship was organised in season 1992/93, with 18 clubs entering. Vardar finished as champions and completed a double by lifting the Macedonian Cup. In 1994 further strides were taken to incorporate FYR Macedonia into the global football family, with the award of FIFA and UEFA membership. Moreover, the country joined the Balkan Football Federation, enabling it to participate in regional Under-16 and U18 tournaments. In 1995 Vardar and FK Sileks appeared in European competition, with Sileks reaching the first round of the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, losing to VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach.

The national side began their footballing odyssey in 1994, participating in qualifying for EURO '96. Drawn in a group with Armenia, Belgium, Cyprus, Spain and holders Denmark, they kicked off with a creditable 1-1 home draw with the Danes. Mitko Stojkovski of FK Crvena zvezda had the honour of scoring the country's first official goal.

The team secured further draws against Belgium, Armenia and Cyprus, also beating the Cypriots 3-0 at home. Since then football in FYR Macedonia has continued to advance. Two noteworthy results were a 3-2 win against the Republic of Ireland in 1997, and an 11-1 landslide victory over Liechtenstein 12 months earlier.

In an attempt to encourage such positive momentum, the FFM has handed the national-team reins to foreign coaches such as Serbian trainers Slobodan Santrač and Ljubinko Drulović (the present incumbent), Srečko Katanec from Slovenia and Wales's John Toshack, following the earlier efforts of Andon Doncevski, Gjoko Hadzievski, Nikola Ilievski, Dragan Kanatlarovski and Boban Babunski.

However, local coach Mirsad Jonuz was in charge when the FFM celebrated 100 years of football in FYR Macedonia by hosting a high-profile friendly against European champions Spain in August 2009, which the visitors edged 3-2.

Vardar old boy Darko Pancev is FYR Macedonia’s Golden Player – an accolade inspired by UEFA's Golden Jubilee of 2004. The striker was the first Macedonian player to win the ESM Golden Shoe for the European top flights' leading scorer, in 1990/91, a season in which he also landed the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Crvena zvezda. Meanwhile, in May 2010, Goce Sedloski wrote his name in the history books as the first Macedonian footballer to amass 100 caps – still a record – playing his last international in a friendly against Azerbaijan.

Eleven months later FYR Macedonia opened its new national stadium, the 32,580 Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski, built on the site of the old Gradski stadium in Skopje. Looking to the future, the FFM has initiated a stadium renovation programme in four cities – Tetovo, Stip, Bitola and Prilep.

Recently, FYR Macedonia has witnessed other major developments relating to its football facilities, with the FFM cooperating with UEFA in various infrastructure projects. The federation's House of Football and first national training centre were inaugurated in March 2013, with the complex subsequently renamed after Petar Milosevski, the former national-team keeper who died in a car accident in March 2014.

Last updated: 23/04/15 18.09CET