FK Rabotnicki's European travails have eclipsed all other footballing news in F.Y.R. Macedonia, culminating in a famous draw against Bolton Wanderers FC.
The Skopje side had led the UEFA Cup first round first leg game through a Nemanja Milisavljević goal until the 83rd minute, when a goalkeeping lapse allowed Abdoulaye Méité to level for the Premier League side. It was the first time a local club had ever faced a top English team in European competition and was the source of considerable excitement in local footballing circles.
"I want to congratulate my players for a great match," said coach Dragoljub Bekvalac after the game. "A big opponent did not intimidate them and they gave their all. I am sorry that we did not win. One mistake was fatal. We were very close to taking a victory against a team from Premier League. After this result Bolton have the advantage but we will not give up in the return leg."
'It was great'
The following day, the coach sounded slightly more positive, saying: "It was great last night. It could have been better but our opponents took advantage and scored after a mistake by our whole defence. We led, played very well and were one step away from a great win but what happens happens. Bolton have an away goal but we have nothing to lose and will play for a better result."
Rabotnicki are currently enjoying their best ever season in European competition having played five games in the UEFA Cup without a single defeat, overcoming NK Gorica of Slovenia and NK Zrinjski of Bosnia-Herzegovina to reach the verge of the group stage. A high-scoring draw or a win at Bolton looks like a tough call, but hopes among the club's fans are sky high.
Despite all this excitement, Rabotnicki have been doing well in the domestic league too, leading the way and unbeaten after eight games. They are two points clear of promoted FK Milano and a further three clear of FK Vardar in third. Meanwhile, the opening round of the Macedonian Cup in September brought a major shock as second division FK Ilinden knocked out champions FK Pobeda 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
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