REPORT: Meet Shkendija, Milan’s Rival On The Way To Europa League
Shkendija is the final obstacle for Milan on the way to the Europa League group stage.
When people all over the world heard that Milan were drawn to play Macedonian side Shkendija in the Europa League playoff stage, I bet the first question that popped on everyone’s mind was “who is Shkendija?”. Well, here is a little help coming directly from the country of R. Macedonia.
Shkendija was formed in 1979 by ethnic Albanians from Tetovo, Macedonia and was frowned upon at the time as it was thought the club would awaken nationalist feeling in Yugoslavia. After Macedonia became independent, Shkendija was re-established into the Macedonian Football League. It started at the Fourth division, eventually being promoted each season to the third, second and finally, to the First division.
In the 2010/2011 season of the First Macedonian Football League, the club won its first major championship with an unbeaten run of 16 games. Since 2014, they have constantly been in the Top 3 (once third place and twice as runners up behind FK Vardar) earning a spot in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
Their current squad is valued at €6,6 million by Transfermarkt, with Macedonian internationals Ferhan Hasani and Besart Ibrahimi the top players to watch in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Both of them are lads who new Milan arrival Ricardo Rodriguez is very familiar with. As a matter of face, Hasani was Rodriguez’s teammate in Wolfsburg back in 2012, whilst Ibraimi appeared in the Bundesliga with Schalke in 2010. Winger Marjan Radeski and goalkeeper Kostadin Zahov complete the list of players who have represented Macedonia internationally.
Shkendija’s home stadium is the Ecolog Arena located in Tetovo whose capacity consists of 15,000 seats. In June 2017, it was reported that Shkendija and the two other MFL teams will play their Europa League qualifiers at the Mladost Stadium in Strumica. However, its maximum capacity is at 6500, making it highly unlikely that they will welcome Milan there. As a reason, the match has been moved at the Telekom Arena, formerly known as Philip II Arena in the capital city, Skopje.
Sounds familiar? That is because the UEFA Super Cup Final 2017 between Real Madrid and Manchester United was played exactly at the Telekom Arena, a stadium with a capacity of 33,000. Since champions Vardar are playing Fenerbahce on the 17 August in Skopje, UEFA had to make changes to the Shkendija-Milan tie. The first leg will be played at San Siro, with the return match in Skopje.
The Macedonian runners-up will in fact face an Italian club for the first time in their history. Moreover, they may not have played against an Italian club, but they have definitely worn of of their jerseys and guess which one? Milan’s of course. Back in 1994, Shkendija players once entered the pitch wearing a Milan jersey, a gift by Fabio Capello’s winning team. Currently, Qatip Osmani’s side are number 314 in the UEFA ranking, and have already been through three preliminary rounds, having previously knocked out Dacia, Helsinki and Trakai.
What is interesting is that Hasani and Ibraimi have already stood once on the ground of the Philip II Arena against current Milan defenders Bonucci and Romagnoli back in October 2016, with Hasani scoring one of the goals of the match. The final score of the game was Macedonia 2-3 Italy.
To sum up, Shkendija may seem an easy opponent and is absolutely the underdog in comparison to Milan, but the Rossoneri should still be careful and not think less of them. As history tells us, that is often where Milan stumbles. It is all up to them if they win or underestimate a “smaller” opponent and hit a rock.