Austria will kick-start their campaign at UEFA Euro 2020 on Monday when they take on North Macedonia at Arena Nationala in Bucharest.

North Macedonia are bracing themselves for their first-ever game in the European Championship when they lock horns with Austria in the Group C opener on Monday.

Along with Finland, North Macedonia are one of two first-team participants in Euro 2020 this year, after splendidly qualifying through the playoff. They initially finished third in their group before beating Kosovo and later Georgia in the play-off, with an extremely late goal from Goran Pandev, helping them secure qualification for the first time in the nation’s history.

Austria, in contrast, registered direct qualifying to the main stage after finishing second in the group. Their tally of six wins in ten matches was only bettered by Poland, who were faultless with eight wins in ten.

Die Burschen are playing only their third European Championship this year and were knocked out of the group stages in Euro 2016. They will be hoping for better fortunes this time around, though Franco Foda’s men haven’t performed very well heading into the competition.

Austria won just once in the first three 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, including a 4-0 defeat to Denmark. They also failed to win their warm-up friendlies, losing 1-0 to England and drawing 0-0 with Slovakia.

UEFA Euro 2020 Group C: Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine | THT Preview

North Macedonia, in contrast, are in an inspiring run of form, notably securing a 2-1 victory over Germany in the World Cup qualifiers. They are coming on the back of a 4-0 win over Kazakhstan in the pre-tournament friendly, giving them the ideal confidence they need ahead of their first game in the UEFA Euro 2020.

Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides in this enticing Group C opener at Arena Nationala in Bucharest on Monday.

Team News & Tactics

Austria

Austria have a habit of consistently underperforming in big tournaments, and Franco Foda will be hoping to end that record, as he has, at his disposal, one of the most exciting teams in Euro 2020.

Led valiantly by David Alaba, Austria typically play with a flexible 4-2-3-1 with wingers pushing very high up the pitch to offer support for the attackers. Alaba and the right-sided player in Stefan Lainer should continue to operate in that role, playing almost as wingbacks.

Their offensive movements do create an imbalance in defence, especially in a back-four system. And that is where the presence of holding midfielder Florian Grillitsch could prove to be important. The Hoffenheim star is a defensive-minded midfielder who can tuck in between the two central defenders in Martin Hinteregger and Aleksandar Dragovic, creating a momentary 3-4-3 in the attack.

That said, the midfield is Austria’s biggest strength as they boast the services of work-horses like Xaver Schlager, Konrad Laimer and Marcel Sabitzer, with the latter serving as the creative lynchpin in the middle.

Given the sheer number of Bundesliga players they have at their disposal, Austria have a strong first line of press. Sasa Kalajdzic usually spearheads the attack, with additional support from creative players such as Christoph Baumgartner and Valentino Lazaro.

Even Sabitzer could join the first line of press if necessary, although he and Baumgartner should play a vital role in offering balls in behind the opposition defence, picking out runners like Lainer and Lazaro.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Schlager; Lainer, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Alaba; Grillitsch, Schlager; Lazaro, Sabitzer, Baumgartner; Kalajdzic

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North Macedonia

Considering the quality of the opposition, North Macedonia head coach Igor Angelovski is expected to opt for his conservative system, with a 5-3-2 formation that usually constitutes of two wingbacks supporting both attackers and defenders depending on the situation of the game.

Ezgjan Alioski and Stefan Ristovski usually occupy these two wingback positions. Alioski is usually given more attacking freedom, as the Leeds United forward particularly useful when it comes to providing crosses from the wider areas.

However, North Macedonia are largely expected to sit deep, as Angelovski unleashes the hard-working back three of Darko Velkovski, Visar Musliu and Kire Ristevski. The additional defensive support should be provided by the right wingback Ristovski, as he has more experience of playing as a defender.

In the midfield trifecta, Angelovski is likely to go for Stefan Spirovski and Arijam Ademi, whose defensive prowess should help him get the nod ahead of Boban Nikolov, and finally, Eljif Elmas.

Elmas is the team’s creative lynchpin, while both Ademi and Spirovski are likely to operate in a conservative holding midfield role. The Napoli youngster will have the license to move forward, becoming a passing option for attackers.

Speaking of which, the North Macedonian attack will be spearheaded by none other than Goran Pandev, who will be utilised as a target man. His attacking partner Aleksandar Trajkovski will play a more technical role, looking to spark things up in the creative department.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Dimitrievski; Velkovski, Musliu, Ristevski; Ristovski, Spirovski, Ademi, Elmas, Alioski; Pandev, Trajkovski

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Form Guide

Austria: DLLWD

North Macedonia: WDWWL

Key Stats

  • Austria and North Macedonia were in the same group during the Euro 2020 qualifiers, with Das Team winning both the encounters quite comfortably.
  • North Macedonia’s last defeat at home came way back in June 2019, though it was against Austria.
  • Goran Pandev, aged 37, is older than the country he is representing, as North Macedonia was formed in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Players in Focus

Marcel Sabitzer (Austria)

While the spotlight will certainly be on Real Madrid newcomer David Alaba, the main player for Austria heading into this affair is Marcel Sabitzer. The RB Leipzig captain is the nation’s main creative force, boasting tremendous work ethic, versatility and commitment that could help him thrive against the North Macedonia defence.

Marcel Sabitzer was brilliant this season for Leipzig. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer is Austria’s creative lynchpin. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Tactically, Sabitzer will operate as a number eight/number ten hybrid. He is likely to be utilised in the second line of press but will have the license to move forward where the Austrian international will be tasked with the responsibility of offering long balls behind in case of any counter-attacking opportunities.

Ezgjan Alioski (North Macedonia)

North Macedonia will also rely on their work-horses rather than star players like Goran Pandev or Eljif Elmas. As such, the onus will be on Ezgjan Alioski to offer that spark in the creative department while oscillating up and down the left flank.

Alioski is indeed going to play a vital role, especially when it comes to creating a solid partnership with Elmas and Ivan Trickovski. The Leeds United star is also expected to become his nation’s main provider of crosses, trying to find the Pandev and other players who are expected to make their way into the box.

Prediction

Austria 2-0 North Macedonia

Austria have not performed as well as the quality of their team suggests. But this time around, Franco Foda truly has something exciting talent at his disposal. Not to mention, Die Osterreich have an excellent record against North Macedonia back from when they met in the Euro 2020 qualifying stages, so it will be surprising to see them fail to secure all three points in this one.

That said, the newcomers should not be taken lightly, as their recent performances truly suggest. Angelovski’s men are capable of beating anyone on their day. However, they might struggle to create many chances against an Austria side with quality wide players, including David Alaba. The Hard Tackle predicts a hard-fought 2-0 win for Franco Foda’s troops on Monday.

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