Austria finally registered a first European Championship win at the seventh attempt as they ruined North Macedonia’s first outing at a major tournament with a 3-1 triumph in Bucharest.
Substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic both scored in the final 12 minutes to make sure Franco Foda’s side claimed all three points from the Group C tussle.
After fellow debutants Finland recorded a 1-0 triumph over Denmark on Saturday, North Macedonia had appeared on course to mark their maiden appearance with a point against opponents who beat them twice in qualifying.
Having struck in the second leg to see off Georgia in the play-offs and secure a spot at Euro 2020, Goran Pandev became the second oldest scorer in the competition’s history when he capitalised on an unexpected opportunity to tap in an equaliser.
Goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann failed to hold on when sliding out to grab the ball ahead of Aleksandar Trajkovski, a three-way collision also involving David Alaba allowing the ever-alert Pandev to convert into an unguarded net with his team’s first attempt.
Austria had opened the scoring with an eye-catching goal, Marcel Sabitzer’s raking pass finding the advancing Stefan Lainer, who showed impressive attacking instincts for a defender with a side-footed volley from a tight angle that flashed beyond Stole Dimitrievski.
There was not so much to admire about the build-up play and finish for North Macedonia’s equaliser, not that they cared too much.
Arnautovic was summoned from the bench early in the second half to try and inspire Austria, though it was fellow replacement Gregoritsch who scored the game’s crucial third goal, the Augsburg forward making a near-post run to apply the finishing touch to Alaba’s inviting cross from the left flank.
Any hope of a tiring North Macedonia rallying for a second time disappeared when Arnautovic went clean through in the 89th minute, calmly rounding Dimitrievski to wrap up the victory.
What does it mean? Austria end major drought
The only previous time Austria won at a major tournament, North Macedonia had not even gained independence. That solitary success came at the 1990 World Cup when beating the United States 2-1 in the group phase.
If they are to progress to the knockout rounds for the first time in the Euros, this always felt a must-win outing. They had to fight hard against a North Macedonia side doing far more than making up the numbers, but the changes by Foda made all the difference in the end.
With Gregoritsch and Arnautovic on target, four of Austria’s five goals at the European Championships have been scored by substitutes.
From back to front
Lainer likes playing against North Macedonia – his only other international goal also came against them in a qualifier in November 2019. That also happened to be the previous time Sabitzer provided an assist for his country, too.
Rolling back the years
Two decades on from his international debut, Pandev – aged 37 years and 321 days – fittingly grabbed North Macedonia’s historic goal. It puts him just behind Ivica Vastic (38 years and 257 days) on the list of goal-den oldies.
Key Opta facts
– Austria netted more goals against North Macedonia (3) than in their previous six matches in the competition combined (2).
– Arnautovic and Gregoritsch became the first pair of players to score from the bench for the same country in the competition since Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Carrasco did so for Belgium (v Hungary) in 2016.
– Lainer’s 18th-minute goal was the first time Austria had taken the lead in a European Championship encounter.
– Only eight other players selected for this European Championship have won more caps for their country than Pandev, who made his 120th appearance against Austria, scoring his 38th international goal.
– Three of Arnautovic’s 27 international goals have come against North Macedonia, the most he has managed against a single nation.
Both teams are back in action on Thursday. North Macedonia will be remaining in Bucharest for their second fixture, against Ukraine. Austria, meanwhile, move on to Amsterdam to take on the Netherlands.
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