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Goran Pandev is widely regarded as the greatest Macedonian player of all time, and at the age of 37 is actually older than the country he represents.
Still, the veteran was key to his nation’s qualification for Euro 2020, scoring the play-off final winner against Georgia to cement his status as a national hero – as if he wasn’t already. He’s also popular with a certain era of Football Manager player.
Born in SR Macedonia, which at the time was still part of the former Yugoslavia, the striker has spent the majority of his career in Italy, playing for some of the best clubs at the top level.
He has laced his boots for Lazio, Napoli, Galatasaray and Genoa, where he still currently plays.
However, the legendary forward was part of one of Inter’s greatest sides in recent history when they won the treble under Jose Mourinho in the 2009/10 season – the first treble in Italian football history.
He played a crucial role then, too. Although usually a shadow striker, he sat deeper, worked hard on the defensive end and earned the trust of the legendary Portuguese manager.
Pandev was the first Macedonian to score 100 goals in one of the top five football leagues.
North Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, making him seven years older than his country.
“For all of us, it’s a dream come true we’re at the Euros,” he said after qualifying.
“I just wanted to help the guys because this is a young group, an amazing group and the guys deserve it,” adding that age is merely a number.
North Macedonia’s first European Championship qualifying goal was scored on 7 September 1994 by Mitko Stojkovski, against Denmark in Skopje. Pandev’s though, in February, is the most important in the team’s history.
He has scored important goals before, including the ones that embarrassed Germany in a World Cup qualifier.
“[The one against Georgia] is my dearest goal because finally we qualified for a major tournament,” he has said.
The forward will be leading North Macedonia into their first-ever major tournament as an independent nation this summer.
With 118 caps to his name, and a return of 37 goals, he truly is the country’s talisman and leader.
Pandev was recognised for his sporting achievements and his contribution to developing and popularizing the sport in Macedonia with a Medal for Service to Country in 2009 by their President.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the ins and outs of the Macedonian squad, however, Pandev isn’t the only talent, with Napoli’s Elmas, Mallorca striker Aleksandar Trajkovski and Leeds United wing-back Ezgjan Alioski also on the squad.
Macedonians will be relishing their first-ever major trophy and will feel nobody deserves an opportunity like this more than their country’s hero.