Ukraine hold off spirited North Macedonia to earn first Euro 2020 win

Ukraine survived a second-half fightback from North Macedonia to record a 2-1 victory and their first win of the group stage in a topsy-turvy Group C encounter at the National Arena in Budapest.

Having seen their comeback scuppered by the Netherlands in a wildly entertaining five-goal opening match, Andriy Shevchenko’s side eased to a comfortable first-half lead thanks to goals from forwards Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk.

However, the tables were turned in the second half when Ezgjan Alioski reacted quickest to the rebound off his own saved penalty to halve the deficit. Ukraine missed a late penalty of their own but held on under immense Macedonian pressure to hand the tournament debutants their second defeat of the finals.

A lively first quarter saw both teams go close, with Macedonian keeper Stole Dimitrievski saving a fierce drive from Ruslan Malinovskiy and the young Napoli playmaker Eljif Elmas finding the side netting.

The breakthrough came in the 29th minute after captain Yarmolenko forced a clever corner routine from the left at the far post.

Yarmolenko then turned provider in the 32nd minute as he played a diagonal ball through to Yaremchuk, who beat the offside trap to finish clinically past Dimitrievski.

Just before halftime, North Macedonia’s veteran captain Goran Pandev thought he had pulled one back for his side with a delightful chip over Georgiy Bushchan in goal but was denied by the offside flag.

At halftime, Igor Angelevski switched the Macedonian defence to a back four and brought on a forward, Aleksandar Trajkovski. The attacking changes had an immediate effect, with North Macedonia discovering some much-needed fluency.

They grabbed a lifeline in the 57th minute when, after a brilliant Bushchan save, Pandev went down after contact from Oleksandr Karavayev to win a penalty. Alioski stepped up and, after his initial strike was saved, reacted smartly to smash home the rebound.

Ukraine took off their two goalscorers for Artem Besedin and Viktor Tsygankov, and the latter missed a chance from 15 yards out that could have settled it for Ukraine. Ukraine missed another golden opportunity after Daniel Avramovski handled the ball as he blocked a freekick.

The Argentinean referee Fernando Rapallini – part of a referee exchange program with Copa America – consulted the VAR monitor and awarded a penalty. But Malinovskiy’s effort was well saved by Dimitrievski, meaning four out of the five penalties awarded at Euro 2020 so far had been wasted.

North Macedonia poured forward in the closing stages but could not find an equaliser, with Trajkovski firing a hopeful effort wide. The final whistle blew soon after, strengthening Ukraine’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.

The result meant that Ukraine moved level on three points with the Netherlands and Austria but remained in third place due to their inferior goal difference. North Macedonia stay at the bottom with zero points and will be eliminated if the Netherlands avoid defeat against Austria.