Saturday, November 17, 2007

A senior NATO official has told Macedonian leaders that the next few months are going to be decisive for Macedonia’s NATO membership bid.

The tiny Balkan nation host Croatia today and, if they win, they will keep alive England’s chances regardless of the result between Israel and Russia.

Group E leaders Croatia still need a point to qualify and, if they lose here in Skopje, England will be able to pip them to a Euro 2008 spot by beating them 2-0 at Wembley.

Steve McClaren’s men suffered a shock goalless draw at Old Trafford against the former Yugoslav republic.

And their star striker Ilco Naumovski, 24, has vowed to boost England’s chances by producing yet another shock result against Croatia today. He told SunSport: “I would like to see England go to Euro 2008 because it’s a big nation.

“Every football fan would prefer England to go to the European Championships than Croatia.

“I play football in Austria so I would like to watch England this summer. If we beat Croatia I know England will have a chance. I am 100 per cent sure we won’t lose here. I am 100 per cent convinced we will win here.”

Naumovski’s team-mates are a bunch of journeymen who ply their trade in Europe’s lesser leagues like Austria, Greece and Cyprus.

They are all desperate to get away from the national league, where the average monthly salary is a paltry £140.

In other words, some players in the squad of the Balkan paupers earn 1,000 times less in a month than England skipper John Terry earns in a WEEK.

Yet Naumovski insists they are not a team of no-hopers and they proved that with the goalless draw in England — one of the results that have brought McClaren’s men to the brink of catastrophe.

Naumovski added: “We have a very good team. We showed that against England. If we can draw in England, why can’t we beat Croatia at home?

“First we play for our country but if we can help England as well then great. There is no way Croatia will walk this game. They will have to fight hard not to lose it.

“This game is much too important for us.

“This is a Balkan derby, a big-time match.

“I know every Croatian player, they’re friends of mine. But they’re no friends of mine on Saturday.

“For us we all want to win, no draw or loss against Croatia — never!

“We need points to ensure our FIFA ranking stays high but this local derby is more important than that.

“Croatia and England are different teams. Croatia is a more technical team but I prefer the style of England.

“Against England every country gives 200 per cent because it’s one of the biggest. It would be a great shame for England if they didn’t qualify — and for the tournament itself. Don’t forget, football comes from England.”

Naumovski, who plays for Matersburg in Austria, is set for a switch to English football — with Reading and Leicester eager to snap him up.

He dreams of playing in the Premier League but SunSport understands the offer from Leicester supremo Milan Mandaric is better than the one from the Royals.

Naumovski added: “I know Reading and Leicester are interested in me. I would love to play in England.

“I know people will be coming from England to watch me in that game. It’s my big dream to play in England. In the past I was close to coming to England but I got injured.

“Now I’ve been playing in Austria for a couple of years and I was voted the best striker there last season.”

Macedonia skipper Goce Sedloski last night sent a blunt message to England: “You’ve only got yourselves to blame if you do not qualify.”

Sedloski, 33, who played in the Premier League for Sheffield Wednesday a decade ago, said: “England can’t say they are relying on Israel or ourselves to get a result.

“It’s their fault they could not beat us and they lost to Croatia and Russia. Although I would like to see them in Euro 2008, if they don’t go it means they don’t deserve it because they could not get results in the games that mattered in Moscow and Zagreb.”

A draw would be considered a great result for Macedonia. Yet Sedloski insisted his side will go all out for the win at the Gradski Stadium.

He added: “We must get the points because it’s important for us ahead of the draw for the World Cup.

“There’s no calculation for us and we don’t think that a draw is good for both our team and Croatia. We will play to win.”

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