Diego Alberto Milito and Wesley Sneijder had retired long ago, but the 37-year-old Goran Pandev kept on playing. With the Argentinian and the Dutchman, Pandev won the Champions League final in 2010, but he would have to wait more than ten years for the peak of his career.
Through the Nations League, the North Macedonians managed to qualify for the European Championship in November. And to complete the fairy tale: Pandev scored the winning goal in the qualification. He sank to the floor in tears and wrapped his hands around his head. ‘I’ve been wearing this shirt for 19 years and it’s the most beautiful shirt in the world’, he said.
At the end of March of this year, North Macedonia took the fairy one step further with a victory over football superpower Germany. Pandev also scored in this game. At the end of the first half, he taps the ball from close range past substitute goalkeeper Ter Stegen. Elif Elmas scores the winning goal in the 83rd minute.
Pandev made his debut for North Macedonia in 2001. After a long careerd he had already announced several times that he wanted to stop. The first time was in 2011. He had had enough of the supporters of other countries laughing at the players of his country. Again in 2013, he said he would quit, because he had had enough of all those cheap charter flights with the national team.
Pandev did not quit and at the European Championship, Pandev’s fairy tale continued to some extent, even though North-Macedonia did not manage to pass the group stages. He scored his country’s first ever goal in an international tournament and is now simultaneously the youngest and oldest ever goalscorer for his country.
PEOPLE WILL LISTEN TO OUR ANTHEM
How deeply moved the North Macedonians are by the qualification for the European Championship was shown by the commentator Toni Stojanovski’s reaction on the national television of Macedonia immediately after his country’s qualification. ‘People will greet our team and listen to our anthem.’
That is not obvious and it means a lot to the people of a country that has not even been allowed to choose its own name. Macedonia, the cradle of Alexander the Great, had been part of Yugoslavia since World War II and wanted to continue as the Republic of Macedonia after Yugoslavia had fallen apart in the Balkan WarsBecause the Greeks were absolutely against this (the northernmost province of Greece is also called Macedonia), the word ‘North’ had to be added to the country name. ‘
Opponents believe that the government has sold out the country’, NOS sports reporter Vlado Veljanoski explained in the sports program NOS Studio Europa. The football players he spoke to do not use the addition ‘ North’. They’re all use the word Macedonia, when the speak about their own country.’
Just before the game against the Netherlands, the current player from Genoa again announced his retirement. ‘I’ll stop after tomorrow’, he said at a press conference. ‘I think it’s just the end of my entire football career here. I don’t plan to continue playing after this. It really is 100 percent the end of my international career. I want to say goodbye to the national shirt in a very nice way. In a match at the European Championship against the Netherlands, that is the crown on my career. My dream has come true to play in such a big tournament.’