North Macedonia have ’90 minutes to fulfil’ World Cup dream

NORTH MACEDONIA (AFP): The North Macedonia players have “90 minutes to fulfil” the “dream of a whole country” said key midfielder Elif Elmas ahead of Tuesday’s 2022 World Cup play-off against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

North Macedonia travel to Portugal in the hope of claiming a second notable scalp, having eliminated European champions Italy last Thursday, and reaching their first ever World Cup finals.

“Frankly this might be one of the most difficult and most exciting matches for all of us,” said Elmas on Sunday.

“We have 90 minutes to fulfil our childhood dream, not only ours, but of the whole country.

“Simply, we have to know that we can’t miss this chance and we have to ‘burn’ on the pitch in order to get to Qatar.”

North Macedonia are bidding for a fourth successive away victory but face a Portugal side which will feature an extra-motivated Ronaldo, who at 37 is unlikely to have another chance of appearing at football’s quadrennial global showpiece.

“We beat a giant like Italy, but still have one more step towards the World Cup. We dream of a victory on Tuesday,” said winger Ezgjan Alioski.

“We do not want to mess something up in Ronaldo’s career, but we believe that we can win against Portugal.”

Portugal and North Macedonia have played each other just once before, producing a goalless draw in a 2012 friendly.

Despite the stiff challenge ahead, North Macedonia’s capital Skopje has been buzzing with football fever in the wake of last week’s win.

“Portugal is a very good team and Macedonia will have a very difficult task. We all want Macedonia to win and to be part of the World Cup,” Skopje resident Boban Ilijevski told AFP.

The Balkan nation of less than two million played its first international match in 1993 following the republic’s independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Despite its tiny population the team have enjoyed some excellent recent results — they qualified for Euro 2020 and beat Germany away in a 2022 World Cup qualifier last year in Duisburg.