Monday morning 2am will be a special time for the Macedonian community in Australia.
Their beloved national football team will embark on their maiden European Championships campaign, when they take on Austria at the National Stadium in Bucharest, Romania.
When Goran Pandev scored the winning goal in the 56th minute against Georgia last November in the play-off final in Tbilisi, it sent Macedonians around the world into a frenzy, and their football team into a major tournament for the first time in their history.
There are over 100,000 Australians of Macedonian heritage living down under, and every single one of them will be bleeding red and yellow come early Monday morning.
“It is more than just football for us,” said Sydney resident Suzanna Petrovski, whose parents migrated from Macedonia in the late 1980s.
“It is about our identity and heritage, something we are very proud of. I am not a big football fan normally, but these championships will be a celebration of where we are from.
“Football is about community and that is exactly what you will see over the coming weeks, with people of all European backgrounds coming together to celebrate who we are.”
It was in Kranj, Slovenia on 13 October 1993 when Macedonia made their official international debut. They won 4-1 that night.
However, the Risovi or Lavovi as they are known, failed to qualify for 12 major tournaments since that result.
Their first unofficial game was in 1945 when Macedonia went down to Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina 3-1 in Belgrade.
Macedonia won’t be there to make up the numbers at Euro 2021. They are going into the tournament in a rich vein of form. They beat Kazakhstan 4-0 last week in a friendly while a 2-1 win over Germany in March showed what they are capable of.
(Photo by Mark Runnacles – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
The Macedonian community has a rich history in Australian football. Clubs like Preston Lions and Wollongong United have played in the former National Soccer League while Rockdale Ilinden, Stirling Lions, Bankstown City and Broadmeadow Magic are popular NPL clubs around the country.
“The Macedonian community has contributed to Australian football as much as anyone else,” said Tom Spasevski, who plays locally in the Granville competition in western Sydney.
“We have clubs that played in the NSL and we have produced a number of Socceroos and also Olyroos.
“I am not sure if there are many Matildas, but I am sure we will have a few going forward.
“This tournament is going to be about showing our passion, our culture and community and hopefully we can share it with other Australians.
“Growing up, Macedonians in Australia have always been proud of who we are. Macedonia is a small country, but here we are on a big stage.
“I am looking forward to late nights and early mornings and lots of kebapi.”
As Spasevski mentions, there have been a number of former Socceroos who have Macedonian heritage, starting with Zarko Odzakov in 1985, followed by the likes of Vlado Bozinovski, Michael Grbevski, John Markovski, Sasho Petrovski, Billy Celeski, Mile Sterjovski, Kris Trajanovski, Sasa Ognenovski and Goran Lozanovski.
There are a number of others who have Macedonian parentage who have played for the Socceroos and the Matildas.
Incidentally, Macedonia last played the Socceroos in 2015, with the game ending in a 0-0 stalemate in Skopje.
After Austria, Macedonia face Ukraine on Thursday, 17 June at 11pm AEST and then the Netherlands on Tuesday, 22 June at 2am in their final group match.
The Euros kick-off when Turkey take on Italy in Rome. There are 24 teams split across six groups, with the top two in each group and the four best third-placed teams going through to the knockout stages.
The Euro 2021 tournament will be staged across 11 cities in Europe in what will be a welcome carnival of football, as European fans heal from their COVID-19 troubles to celebrate the beautiful game.
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