Gjanni Alioski’s cellphone ‘blew up’ after full-time and North Macedonia let their celebrations run a bit wildly, but the morning after their World Cup play-off victory over Italy, the Alioski’s message was simple: “We’re not done.”
Resisting the temptation to bask in one of North Macedonia’s biggest wins, an injury-time withdrawal of the reigning European champions, was nearly impossible, but the focus quickly shifted from dethroning the Italians to a draw that could lead them to this year’s World Cup. finals – and potentially spell the end of Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career.
North Macedonia and Portugal meet tonight at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, with much at stake. After eliminating Italy in the semi-finals of the play-offs, the Macedonians are about to play their very first World Cup. Ronaldo, meanwhile, is bidding for a final hurray in Qatar with the sunset over his career at the age of 37.
Ronaldo has called on Portugal to produce ‘the game of our lives’ tonight and they are big favorites to progress after knocking out Turkey last week, but North Macedonia are on the crest of a wave, fresh off of his appearance at Euro 2020 and dramatically enthused by a 1-0 win over Italy in Palermo on Thursday.
Alioski, the former Leeds United winger who now plays for Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia, has been at the forefront of North Macedonia’s rise to prominence and videos of their dressing room bouncing around social media at following the upheaval of Italy.
“I would be lying if I said we didn’t celebrate,” Alioski told The Athletic. “But we were very aware that the big game is still ahead of us – Portugal. It contained the celebrations because we didn’t finish.
“We know what we are up against, but look, there are only 90 minutes left to decide who will play at the World Cup. And anything can happen in 90 minutes.
“We are a group of players who have had many years to constantly grow as a team. Gradually, we became a kind of family. It’s something special, something difficult to achieve in national teams where you only see each other a few days a year.
North Macedonia’s qualification for the last European Championship was a source of great pride for Alioski’s homeland, leading the government to set aside a gift of €10,000 for each of the players involved, as a token of appreciation .
The team were eliminated in the group stages of this tournament, losing all three games, but their competitive strength continued to grow and they made headlines this time last year beating Germany in a World Cup qualifier, a result that helped secure their place. in the playoffs.
“The win against Germany also meant a lot, but the stakes were higher against Italy,” Alioski said. “And absolutely no one expected us to knock out the European champions.
“We knew we were the underdogs, but again we’re used to being the underdogs in almost every game we play. We knew we had the strength within us to turn the tide. The victory against Germany taught us that we should not hide from anyone.
“My smartphone exploded (after). He took the whole country by surprise. It was great to feel the magnitude of joy and happiness that our victory brought to family, friends and our people in North Macedonia. We are a small country and such victories have a huge impact.
(Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)