PALERMO, ITALY – MARCH 24: Aleksandar Trajkovski of North Macedonia (obscured) celebrates after scoring their side’s first goal with team mates during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier knockout round play-off match between Italy and North Macedonia at Stadio Renzo Barbera on March 24, 2022 in Palermo, Italy. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
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North Macedonia: Just How Massive Was Their Upset of Italy?

An unsung soccer nation’s World Cup dreams are miraculously alive at the expense of the European champions. If you like March Madness darling St. Peter’s, you’re gonna love North Macedonia.

Heading into Thursday’s game, North Macedonia were +1400 betting underdogs FanDuel to win against reigning European champions Italy in the semifinal of UEFA’s World Cup qualifier knockout tournament in Palermo. That means an ill-advised $100 bet would have earned you $1,400 against all odds.

Before last Thursday’s men’s NCAA Tournament game between Kentucky and Saint Peter’s, the Peacocks were likewise +1400 on FanDuel to win.

Both teams pulled off two of the great upsets in recent memory, and it happened in the span of a week.

North Macedonia scored a stunning goal off the boot of Aleksandar Trajkovski in the second minute of second-half stoppage time to win 1-0 and knock Italia right out of the World Cup, the second straight cycle in which they’ll miss out. To repeat: They won the whole damn European championship less than a year ago.

And how thoroughly did the Azzurri dominate this match on paper, you ask?

  • Italy had 66% of the possession to North Macedonia’s 34%
  • Italy had 35 total shots to North Macedonia’s 4, including a 5-2 edge in shots on goal
  • Italy took 16 corner kicks in the match to North Macedonia’s zero
  • Italy completed 471 passes to just 227 from North Macedonia

This is March. All it takes is One Shining MomentTM to completely shock the world, and that moment came in the second minute of extra time when a last-gasp goal kick far beyond midfield was headed right to Trajkovski, a 29-year-old winger who plays for Al-Fayha in Saudi Arabia’s first division. He controlled the ball off his body, zipped through the heart of an unsuspecting Italian defense with a couple of confident dribbles, and fired it into the corner of the net past world-class goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to complete the biggest soccer upset in… well, a long time.

Italy has now unthinkably missed two straight FIFA World Cups, which the more baffling after winning the UEFA Euros, the world’s second-biggest competition, last summer.

And after the unfathomable win over Italy, North Macedonia has to win at Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to reach its first-ever men’s World Cup.

After stunning Kentucky, Saint Peter’s knocked off Murray State to reach the Sweet 16. If the Peacocks ultimately strutted their stuff despite +1400 odds, why not North Macedonia?

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