Veteran forward Goran Pandev scored the decisive goal to send North Macedonia to Euro 2020 – the major tournament in their 27-year history.
The 37-year-old – North Macedonia’s most capped player and all-time leading scorer – flicked the ball home in the 56th minute to see off Georgia in Thursday’s play-off final.
The game was perhaps the biggest in the history of two young soccer nations, but no fans were allowed into the 54,000-seater national stadium in Tbilisi because of coronavirus restrictions in Georgia.
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With so much at stake, the match was predictably cagey and it took 28 minutes before either goalkeeper had to make a save when Georgian playmaker Tornike Okriashvili tested Stole Dimitrievski with a long-range shot.
There were 29 fouls in a stop-start match and only four shots on target but the neatly-worked winning goal was in contrast to the general scrappiness.
Eljif Elmas broke down the left and slipped the ball to Ilija Nestorovski inside the penalty area and he found Pandev, who beat Giorgi Loria for his 36th international goal.
The former Yugoslav republic will face Austria and Ukraine in Bucharest in Group C before taking on the top-seeded Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Currently No. 65 in FIFA’s world rankings, North Macedonia will be the biggest outsider at Euro 2020 and the second newcomer, joining Finland.
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