Bucharest: Both Ukraine and North Macedonia conceded late goals in their opening matches at the European Championship, and both lost because of them.
The teams will next play each other at Euro 2020 today, knowing another loss just might end their chances of advancement.
The top two teams in each of the six groups advance to the round of 16, along with the four best third-place teams.
Two goals down
Ukraine managed to recover from two goals down against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Sunday, but Denzel Dumfries headed in an 85th-minute winner for the Dutch.
“We come back after 2-0 down and it’s so frustrating to lose a game in the last minutes,” said Ukraine captain Andriy Yarmolenko, who scored one of his team’s goals.
“We have two more games to go and we will still play with the same energy,” he said. “If we (advance), then it will be great.”
North Macedonia, one of the two tournament newcomers at Euro 2020 along with Finland, had been holding Austria to a 1-1 scoreline before substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic scored a goal each in the waning minutes at the National Arena in Bucharest on Sunday. That gave Austria its first ever victory at the continental championship.
North Macedonia captain Goran Pandev, who scored his 38th international goal in the match, said even a loss at a major tournament can help his team grow.
“It was a great experience for us as a first match at this kind of tournament. I think we played an excellent 80 minutes,” Pandev said. “We needed to take advantage of our few counterattacks and we didn’t. In the end, that is football.”
Neither Ukraine nor North Macedonia would have been considered favorites in their opening games, but both were in good form ahead of the tournament.
Sunday’s loss was the first for Ukraine in seven matches this year, while North Macedonia recorded eight wins and only three losses in its last 15 games - including a shock away win over Germany in World Cup qualifying in March.
Ukraine is appearing in its third European Championship, including co-hosting the event in 2012, but has only won one match and has never progressed out of the group stage.
Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko called Thursday’s match a serious game against “a team that counterattacks well. So, we have to be really careful.”
His counterpart, Igor Angelovski, said his players need to be fully concentrated till the end of the game.
“We have to stay focused until the final whistle because that’s the only way for us of achieving a good result against Ukraine,” Angelovski said.
Meanwhile, both teams need to limit distractions caused by nationalist issues.
Ukraine’s yellow-and-blue jerseys for Euro 2020 enraged Russia because they featured an outline of the country’s territory showing the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
UEFA has allowed the map to remain - since Russia’s annexation is viewed as illegal under international law - but the slogan “Glory to the heroes” was removed because it was determined to be “clearly political in nature, having historic and militaristic significance.”
The Ukrainian soccer federation said that talks with UEFA about the issue continue.
The North Macedonian soccer federation has asked for action to be taken against Marko Arnautovic for an incident in Sunday’s match, claiming the Austria striker made offensive nationalist comments to a North Macedonia player of Albanian descent.
UEFA banned Arnautovic for one match on Wednesday. He will miss Austria’s game against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Thursday.