There is a quote from former Cameroon star Roger Milla which says a lot about football’s ability to unite a nation: “Football is what makes small countries big.” It is through the magic of the beautiful game that a single player can catapult his homeland into the global arena.
Because they were born in ‘small countries,’ some great players never had the opportunity to play international football on the world’s greatest stages. Others made light of their country’s minnow status to help carry their national side into major tournaments. From George Best to George Weah, Football24/7 sets off on a world tour of small countries with big names.
Nations like Macedonia,Malta,Cyprus have no football history but they have been able to produce some outstanding footballers. Football24/7 takes a look at some of these HIDDEN TREASURES.
Strumica –born Goran Pandev (28) is his country’s most decorated footballer. The Napoli striker is Macedonia’s national team captain. Pandev is the star player of the Republic of Macedonia national football team and is widely considered to be one of the two best players the country has produced alongside former Yugoslavia and Red Star Belgrade great Darko Pančev.
After loan spells at Serie C1 outfit Spezia and Serie A strugglers Ancona, he left for Lazio in 2004 without appearing for the Nerazzurri. Pandev made twenty appearances and scored one goal for Ancona.
The Best in Macedonia
He soon settled in Rome, scoring a memorable solo goal against Juventus – one of three in his debut Serie A campaign.The following season, Delio Rossi was appointed manager of Lazio, and Pandev began to form a deadly strike partnership with Tommaso Rocchi.
In the 2007-08 season, Pandev began to attract attention from some of Europe’s greatest clubs. He reached double figures for Lazio in each of the next three campaigns, peaking with 14 goals in 2007/08, the same season in which he scored three times against Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League.
Pandev scored six goals on the way to Lazio’s fifth Coppa Italia success in 2009 but a contract dispute the following summer led to his exclusion from the team and, eventually, a mid-season transfer back to Inter, signing four-and-a-half year deal. He was branded a rebel by club president Claudio Lotito and frozen out of the squad, as well as being forced to train separately from his former team-mates.
Goran Pandev was awarded the Medal for Service to the Country by the President of the Republic of Macedonia Branko Crvenkovski “in acknowledgement of his sporting achievements and his contribution to developing and popularizing sport in Macedonia as well as promoting the country abroad”
He helped Inter to the Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Champions League treble in 2009/10, making six appearances in Europe’s elite club competition, including the final against FC Bayern München. He became only the third Macedonian to win it.
He finished 2010 in style with a goal in the Nerazzurri’s FIFA Club World Cup final win against TP Mazembe Englebert of DR Congo, the first ever Macedonian to score and win the FIFA Club World Cup Championship.
Pandev joined Napoli on a season-long loan in 2011. Since Cavani and Lavezzi produce world class performances on a regular basis,the Macedonian hitman has mostly been consigned to the role of a bench-warmer at the San Paolo outfit, which has seen him score just six times since the start of the season.
It is believed that Napoli will not exercise their buying option at the end of the season, which will see Pandev move back to Inter.The former Lazio striker has two years left on his contract with Inter.
First capped by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2001, he celebrated his 50th appearance by scoring twice during a 2-1 win against Qatar in an October 2009 friendly; overtook Georgi Hristov (16 goals) as his country’s all-time leading scorer two months earlier with a double against Spain.
Macedonia will be competing with Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, and Wales in Group A for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The road to Brazil will start against Croatia in September.Pandev, so far, has won 61 caps for his country and scored 24 goals, and is the man who is currently leading a charge for Macedonia to reach their first ever FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
But perhaps we’ve forgotten some big names? Do you know of other top players who missed out on a great international career? Leave us your thoughts by adding a comment.
This article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)