Euro 2020: All about pride for North Macedonia, Alaba in back three always the plan for Austria

It was North Macedonia's third successive defeat by the Austrians who did the double over the side in European Championship qualifying.

The Austrian and North Macedonian sides before their clash in a group stage in the Euro 2020 finals.   -  GETTY IMAGES

North Macedonia can be proud of its performance in the country's first appearance on the big stage despite a 3-1 defeat by Austria in their opening Euro 2020 Group C clash, coach Igor Angelovski said.

The Balkan nation of two million people which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 held its own for long spells after its 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev cancelled out Stefan Lainer's early opener.

The Austrians moved up a gear in the final 20 minutes, however, and prevailed thanks to goals from substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic as their opponents ran out of steam.

"There is always lingering disappointment when you lose a match but I can only be proud of the players who reached Euro 2020 and they can hold their heads high," Angeloski told a news conference.

MATCH REPORT: Euro 2020: Gregoritsch, Arnautovic strike late as Austria sinks North Macedonia

"I am so happy for Goran because he scored an historic first goal for North Macedonia at the Euros but we must now turn our attention to the remaining two group matches." Angeloski told an online news conference.

"I am also at a loss of words to describe how I feel about the fantastic atmosphere our fans generated. We played against a team that never stops running and tried to close them down as much as we could."

It was North Macedonia's third successive defeat by the Austrians who did the double over the side in European Championship qualifying and Pandev acknowledged the side was outmuscled.

"We played well for 70 minutes but Austria are physically much stronger than us and they have a deep bench," he said.

 

"Playing our first ever European Championship game was a massive experience and there was no way back after we conceded an unfortunate third goal in the closing stages.

"We have to get some rest now as we’re still in with a chance. We face a difficult next match against Ukraine and we have to take the game to them and go all out for a win because we have nothing to lose."

Pandev also became the second-oldest player to score in a European championship behind Austria's former striker Ivica Vastic, who was 38 when he netted against Poland in the 2008 tournament.

North Macedonia plays the Ukrainians in Bucharest on Thursday and faces the Netherlands in Amsterdam on June 21.

READ: North Macedonia's Pandev becomes second oldest Euro goalscorer

Playing Alaba in a back three was always the plan, says Austria coach Foda

Austria manager Franco Foda defended his decision to start David Alaba in a three-man defensive line in Sunday's game.

The crucial breakthrough, after Pandev's equaliser, came only after the versatile Alaba ventured forward and it was his cross which allowed Gregoritsch to make it 2-1 in the 78th minute.

"We've played with a back-three before. We're flexible and can play several formations, so it wasn't a risk for me. In the last couple of days we talked about the system, how we could play and I haven't seen any problems," Foda told reporters.

"David had a great performance, a good match... He has played in this position for Bayern Munich in a back-three as a centre back, so it wasn't a problem for him.

"Our intention was to add better buildup for our two attackers in the second half and David helped us on the wing. I'm very happy, he organised our defence, he talked a lot to his team mates and in the second half he helped us in attack."

Arnautovic's absence from the starting lineup was also questioned since he is the squad's leading goal scorer but Foda said the 32-year-old was benched due to fitness concerns.

"Marko was injured, he didn't train much with the team and that's why I decided to bring him on later," Foda added.

 

Alaba, adjudged the man of the match, said a halftime team talk did the trick.

"We sat and discussed how we had to play faster to dominate the match," Alaba said. "We had spells where we really put our foot down, looked to win the ball back when we lost it.

"You could see how hungry and willing we were to show that team spirit on the pitch.

"We dominated the first half but couldn't find the solutions... In the second half, we played with more courage, tried to be more clinical and in the end we were rewarded for our efforts."

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