North Macedonia’s Goran Pandev scores against Germany during their World Cup 2022 qualification match in Duisburg on Wednesday. Agence France-Presse
Even as North Macedonians on Thursday were revelling in their football team’s remarkable victory over Germany, dubbed “the Miracle of Duisburg”, in World Cup qualifying, Germany’s performance was dubbed “embarrassing” after they suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat for 20 years in a humiliating 2-1 home loss to North Macedonia which heaped pressure on coach Joachim Loew.
“The disappointment is huge,” said a crest-fallen Loew after the final whistle in Duisburg on Wednesday.
“This is a set-back. There were a lot of mistakes and we didn’t find a way to break down the deep-standing North Macedonians. “We also let them counter-attack and had no grip on the game.”
Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas scored the winner five minutes from time after Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty had drawn Germany level following 37-year-old striker Goran Pandev’s first-half opener.
The German press were quick to put the boot in.
“How embarrassing!” fumed daily Bild on their website.
“Nasty Surprise” said football magazine Kicker while Frankfurt-based daily FAZ opted for “Rude awakening for the German team”.
The four-time world champions have never failed to qualify for football’s biggest tournament, but did not enter the inaugural edition in 1930 and were banned in 1950.
However, Loew’s men are already languishing third in the Group J table, three points adrift of leaders Armenia and behind North Macedonia on goal difference.
North Macedonia’s local press unsurprisingly greeted the feat with glee. “Macedonian miracle in Duisburg,” read the headline in daily Sloboden Pecat.
Nova Makedonija said that “Elmas and Pandev brought the quadruple champions of the world to their knees” in the “historic victory”.
“The fact is, that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen,” admitted stand-in captain Gundogan after Germany’s first World Cup qualifying loss since the infamous 5-1 thrashing by England in 2001.
“It felt as though North Macedonia only got near our goal twice and scored twice -- it was too easy. “We had chances and only scored one goal.
“It hurts all the more that not much will happen for two months,” he added as Germany do not play again until their Euro 2020 warm-up matches in June.
“We have to get in top shape by the end of May and prepare for the (European championship) tournament.” Germany face world champions France and holders Portugal in their European championship group.
The defeat was just the latest setback suffered by Germany, after their 6-0 drubbing by Spain last November and the shock group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The loss, which ended an 18-match winning streak in World Cup qualifying, will put pressure on Loew, who will step down following the Euro 2020 finals in July after 15 years in charge.
The result will also weigh on struggling Chelsea striker Timo Werner, who squandered a golden chance with the score 1-1 after coming off the bench in the second half.
“I’m sorry for him (Werner),” admitted Gundogan.
The former RB Leipzig striker has now scored only two goals in his last 31 appearances for club and country.
PANDEV STRIKES: North Macedonian are ranked 65th in the world, 52 places below Germany, but it was the visitors who took the lead in Duisburg.
Germany were made to pay for missing several early chances, including a skied shot by Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry with the goal at his mercy.
In added time at the end of the first half, North Macedonia’s 37-year-old striker Pandev fired home his 38th international goal.
Germany were suddenly faced with failing to win a World Cup qualifier for the first time since being held to a 4-4 draw at home by Sweden in 2012.
With an hour gone Gundogan, Germany’s captain for the night with Manuel Neuer rested, stepped up to convert the resulting penalty after Leroy Sane went down in the area.
After Werner’s howler, North Macedonia took their chance when Dinamo Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi beat Werner’s Chelsea team-mate Antonio Ruediger and squared for Elmas to fire past Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
“We’ve never beaten a team with so many titles,” North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski said. “These boys have made North Macedonia proud.”
On the streets of capital Skopje, many people could still not believe the incredible win.
“Pandev has placed North Macedonia on football’s world map,” said supporter Igor Ordev, who had bought tickets for the game but could not attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I felt something was going to happen there,” he added.
Last November, North Macedonia had already scaled new heights when they qualified for a major tournament for the first time by booking their place at the delayed Euro 2020 finals, which get underway on June 11. They qualified through the Nations League play-offs.
North Macedonia only bears its current name after signing an agreement in 2018 with Greece, which disputed the right to use the Macedonian name.
A curfew in the nation from 10pm local time prevented any wild celebrations in city centres.
Next up though will be Euro 2020, where North Macedonia have been drawn to face the Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria in Group C.