Austria v North Macedonia: Rookies can make their mark

The Group C opener pits unfancied Austria against tournament new-boys North Macedonia, and Kevin Hatchard's backing both teams to find the net.

Foda's men must win to dispel the doom

Given the talent in their squad, Austria should be going into Euro 2020 with plenty of optimism. However, many fans disagree with the composition of that squad, and there's a feeling the German Bundesliga gets more credit from German-born coach Franco Foda than the Austrian Bundesliga does. There is continued bemusement regarding the use of star player David Alaba, who regularly excels as a centre-back or left-back at club level with Bayern Munich, only to be deployed in midfield or out wide by Foda. The coach has also been accused of approaching games with too negative a mindset.

History is also against Das Team. Our friends at Opta tell us Austria have never won a game at the finals of a European Championship, a run of six matches. Therefore it won't surprise you to learn that they have never escaped the group stage. Their recent history isn't encouraging either - they were thrashed 4-0 at home by Denmark in the recent World Cup qualifiers, and in the warm-up matches they lost 1-0 to England and drew 0-0 with Slovakia.

That's not to say there isn't quality in the side. Alaba is an outstanding player with a slew of club titles in his collection, defensive behemoth Martin Hinteregger has had a strong season with Eintracht Frankfurt, Leipzig skipper Marcel Sabitzer can score goals from long range, and you could make a case for any of Christoph Baumgartner, Konrad Laimer, Xaver Schlager or Julian Baumgartlinger to have starting spots in midfield. One of the most interesting Austrian players is two-metre tall striker Sasa Kalajdzic, who has just rattled in 16 goals for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. Unsurprisingly, he scores his fair share of headers, but he's good on the floor too (a Viennese Peter Crouch, if you will).

Pandev leads the charge for North Macedonia

Having devoted twenty years of his life to his national team's cause, forward Goran Pandev was always going to be revered as a legendary figure in Skopje and beyond. That legacy was burnished considerably in November 2020, with Pandev striking the only goal in Tblisi as North Macedonia beat Georgia 1-0 in a playoff to book a spot at the finals of a major tournament for the first time.

There have been further moments to remember for Pandev and his country. The former Inter, Lazio and Napoli forward scored in a remarkable 2-1 win in Germany during March's World Cup qualifiers. North Macedonia rode their luck at times in Duisburg, but this was no smash-and-grab. For a team that was in the bottom 50 of FIFA's world rankings just five years ago, this has been a stratospheric rise.

It's not just about Pandev, of course. Coach Igor Angelovski is a popular figure among the players, and has done a fine job. Levante midfielder Enis Bardhi provides set-piece quality, Ezgjan Alioski has just had a fine season at Leeds United that saw him start 29 Premier League games, and Napoli's 21-year-old midfielder Eljif Elmas (the man who scored the winner against Germany) is a promising talent.

Austria aren't an exciting prospect at odds-on

Austria are worthy favourites given their personnel, but I can't get behind backing them at 1.71 here in the Match Odds market. If you are determined to keep them onside, I'd suggest backing them in-play once the price creeps above evens. It's worth noting that they've only scored a first-half goal in one of their last nine matches, and that was against the Faroe Islands.

Alternatively, you could look to back Draw/Austria on the Sportsbook at 10/3.

Attack-minded underdogs can strike

North Macedonia carry a genuine goal threat. Pandev and Elmas are capable of producing magic moments, while Bardhi scored a goal and set up two more in the World Cup qualifiers (he is a hefty 16/1 in the Sportsbook's Anytime Assist market). Austria have to open up a bit here, as this represents their best chance to win a game in the group stage, and I think North Macedonia can score an historic goal.

You can simply back North Macedonia to score a goal on the Sportsbook at 4/5, but I'll be a bit bolder and go for Both Teams To Score at 2.32 on the Exchange. I know the numbers show that opening group games are generally pretty cagey, but I think North Macedonia's style makes this a bit different.

Will Sasa be fierce?

Sasa Kalajdzic should lead the line for Austria here, and the ice-cream-loving target-man is 9/5 to find the net at any time, with the adventurous Marcel Sabitzer also worth considering at 11/4.

On the North Macedonian side of things, Goran Pandev is 4/1 to score, and it's worth considering Ezgjan Alioski at 7/1. He scored a penalty in the final warm-up friendly against Kazakhstan, and with VAR installed at Euro 2020, the number of penalties is expected to be significantly higher than five years ago. If you want to use the Bet Builder (see offer below) you could double up an Alioski goal with a BTTS bet at a hefty 10.56.

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