Austria's Michael Gregoritsch, center down, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal against Northern Macedonia during the Euro 2020 championship at the National Arena stadium in Bucharest Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP)
AMSTERDAM: Austria clinched a win over debutant North Macedonia at a European Championship as substitutes Marko Arnautovic and Michael Gregoritsch scored goals in its Group C opener.
Gregoritsch met captain David Alaba’s sublime cross with 12 minutes remaining to end North Macedonia’s resistance, before Arnautovic put the result beyond doubt after rounding goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Veteran Macedonian striker Goran Pandev looked to have earned a memorable point for Euro 2020’s lowest-ranked side on his 120th appearance, 20 years on from his international debut.
The 37-year-old Genoa forward, part of Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter Milan side of 2009-10, pounced on a defensive mix-up and slotted in to an open goal after 28 minutes to cancel out out Stefan Lainer’s strike.
Borussia Monchengladbach right-back Lainer had produced a fine finish to give an uninspiring Austria the lead 10 minutes earlier, leaping to volley in Marcel Sabitzer’s excellent pass.
Lainer held up a shirt reading “Eriksen stay strong” following his goal, after the Denmark midfielder collapsed in his side’s Euro 2020 match against Finland on Saturday.
With the Netherlands and Ukraine to come, both sides played with greater urgency in a fiery second half and Austria manager Franco Foda called on ex-West Ham forward Arnautovic and Gregoritsch to bolster the attack.
Dimitrievski was at full stretch to keep out Gregoritsch’s glanced header, before the Augsburg player made the breakthrough and Arnautovic – Austria’s top scorer in qualifying – grabbed his first international goal in two years.
The Macedonian supporters created a festival atmosphere – despite the rain at Romania’s National Arena – but despite a promising showing it was not to be in their first match at a major tournament in their 27-year history.
North Macedonia face Ukraine on Thursday at 14:00 BST and Austria meet the Netherlands on the same day at 20:00.
(With inputs from BBC)