NOVEMBER 12, 2020 will go down in North Macedonian football history.
That day, veteran forward Goran Pandev scored a 56th-minute winner against Georgia to send his nation to their first-ever major tournament.
Goran Pandev is already a legend of North Macedonian football even before a ball had been kicked at Euro 2020Credit: AFP
And their hopes of a fairytale run into the knockout stages took a huge hit after slipping to a 3-1 loss against Austria, with Holland and Ukraine still to come in Group C.
But for such a young footballing nation, just to be a part of the Euros is a staggering achievement.
Captain Pandev cemented his status as North Macedonian legend with his decisive goal against Georgia.
But in truth, the Genoa striker, 37, was already their biggest star ever.
Incredibly, Pandev is actually OLDER than his country.
North Macedonia only achieved independence as one of six successor states of Yugoslavia in 1991 – eight years after Pandev was born, in Strumica, Macedonia SR.
Since kicking off his career, Pandev has progressed from Football Manager wonderkid to Jose Mourinho‘s secret weapon at treble-winning Inter Milan and North Macedonia veteran in an incredible 21-year span.
Goran Pandev played a pivotal role in helping Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan win a famous treble in 2009-10Credit: Alamy
Pandev kicked off his professional career in 2000-01, playing for Macedonian First League side Belasica.
After one season, he earned his big move to Inter Milan but was swiftly loaned out to feeder club Spezia in Serie C1 and then-Serie A club Ancona, before being sold to Lazio in 2004.
A skilled dribbler and composed finisher, Pandev quickly cemented himself as one of the top forwards in Italy.
In 2007, Pandev burst onto a more global market after he became one of the players to sign on Football Manager.
In all, the Macedonian scored 64 times in 189 times for Lazio before earning a return to Inter Milan in 2009.
In his first season back at the San Siro, Pandev became Jose Mourinho’s secret weapon.
A ‘defensive forward’ ahead of his time, Pandev helped Inter Milan become the first team in Italian football history to secure a treble.
Goran Pandev is North Macedonia’s captain, most-capped player and top scorer of all-timeCredit: AP
That season, the Nerazzurri won the Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia crowns – also finishing as runners-up in the Supercoppa Italiana.
In the same year, Pandev was awarded the Medal for Service to Country by Macedonia’s president for his incredible career.
But 12 year on, the forward is still going strong, turning out for Napoli and Galatasaray before moving to current club Genoa in 2015 – in the process becoming the first North Macedonian star to score 100 goals for clubs in a ‘Big Five’ league.
Such is his longevity, Pandev still managed seven goals in 29 Serie A games last term.
But while he is a club icon for Inter and Genoa, he’s a true, fully-fledged legend for North Macedonia.
Pandev is the most-capped player in his nation’s short history, with 120 caps.
Pandev made his international debut in 2001 and played against David Beckham’s England a year laterCredit: Getty
In scoring against Austria, Pandev netted his 38th international goal – also becoming the second-oldest scorer in European Championship history, behind only Austria’s 38-year-old Ivica Vastic at Euro 2008.
Despite his advancing years, Pandev was the main man yet again as North Macedonia qualified for the Euros with his goal against Georgia.
And he was key as they stunned Germany in their World Cup qualifier in March, scoring in first-half stoppage time en route to a famous 2-1 win.
After three games, North Macedonia sit second in their qualifying table behind only Armenia – ahead of Germany, Romania, Iceland and Liechtenstein – as they aim to reach their first-ever World Cup.
With just 18 months to go until the tournament in Qatar, you wouldn’t put it past Pandev to still be playing, then aged 39.
Despite North Macedonia boasting talents such as Eljif Elmas and Enis Bardhi, you’d suspect they’ll need him, too.
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