Ground: Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski
Date: 12th July 2016
Match: Vardar Skopje - Dinamo Zagreb 1-2 (UEFA Champions League, qualifying)
Attendance: 17 000
For those of us interested in visiting new countries the draw for the (first two) qualifying rounds of the Champions- and Europa League is something looking forward to. Last year I went to Andorra and this year I was looking at Macedonia and Croatia. In the summer there are daily flights from Malmö to Skopje and once the date for the CL-qualifier between Vardar Skopje and Dinamo Zagreb was confirmed I booked the trip to Macedonia. My flight, with Wizz Air, was supposed to leave Sturup airport in Malmö 21.25 but it wasn´t until 22.45 we set off. In the 60s and 70s a lot of people came from Yugoslavia to Sweden to work. Many with Yugoslav roots go back on holiday during the summer months and my flight was full. We arrived in Skopje at 1am but seated in row 2 and flying with cabin luggage only it didn´t take me long to leave the airport in a taxi. At 01.35 I was then at my hotel in central Skopje. Skopje has a population of around 500 000 and was made capital 8 September 1991 when Macedonia became independant from Yugoslavia. Officialy the country is called “Former Yugoslav Republic of Yugoslavia and this has to do with the relation to Greece. The northern part of Greece (as well as parts of Bulgaria) is also called Macedonia and Greece don´t accept an independant Macedonia.
As I woke up on Tuesday morning I knew I had a warm day ahead of me. The temperature would reach 36 °C but I had a brought a sun hat to protect me. My first stop was Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski, the national stadium in Macedonia, where Vardar Skopje play their home games. The ground was opened in 1947 but has been rebuilt and expanded in recent years. The project for the south stand was designed in 1977 by architects Dragan Krstev and Todorka Mavkova. Construction of the stadium in its present form began in 1978, with the building of the south stand, which took two years to finish. The reconstruction and expansion started after a long delay in project implementation in January 2008. The construction of a new north stand was finished in August 2009. The reconstruction of the south stand started in 2009 and soon after the construction of the new east and west stands started. By mid-July 2012 the majority of the stadium was completed, including a new pitch and running tracks. 25 July 2012 Vardar Skopje played BATE Borisov in the 2nd qualifying round of the Champions League to re-open the stadium. Arena Filip II Makedonski nowadays has a capacity of 33 500. In 2017 the ground will host the UEFA Supercup final and building works are actually ongoing. The interior of the ground is ready but the exterior of the north stand is still not ready. I expect everything will be ready in time for the Supercup final.
Vardar Skopje had been kind to me and given me a press accreditation for the game. As I walked around the ground I couldn´t find the club office (where you normally pick up accreditations). I found the reception of the academy and they phoned the press officer about my accreditation. He didn´t answer though and I was pointed to the interior of the stadium. The press officer, Goran, was not there either but I got in contact with him and he said he would be at the ground in two hours time. That meant I had some time to kill and I headed towards the city centre for some sightseeing. My first stop was the old fortress from where you have a great view of the city. Going uphill to the fortress meant I was in need of a drink and before going to the Old Bazaar area I stopped at a local brewery for a well-earned drink. In the old Bazaar area there was a fascinating mix of locals, tourists, restaurants as well as mosques and minarets. The receptionist at my hotel told me there are “thousands” of statues in central Skopje. I didn´t count them all but there are indeed many statues to look at. Having received a message from Goran, the press officer, I then headed back to the ground where we met up and he gave me my accreditation. When I told him I was looking at a restaurant serving cevapcici Goran told me we would drive to the best cevapcici-restaurant in all of Skopje. A delicious lunch later I went back to my hotel for a few hours rest. Being from Sweden temperatures of 35-36 °C is not something I am used to and it felt really good to enjoy the AC in my hotel room!
Kick-off was at 20.45 and around 18.30 I left my hotel and headed towards the ground. Outside the ground there were a few fans but above all a huge number of police in riot gear. To me they looked like soldiers heading to war but I guess this is normal procedure in the Balkans. Anyway, I went to the media entrance and around 19.15 I was inside the ground. For a ground with running tracks I have to say Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski is quite a nice ground. Dinamo Zagreb had been allocated the entire east curve of the ground but less than 100 fans had made it from Croatia meaning plenty of room in the away end. Vardar Skopje normally have attendances of around 2 000 but I was expecting 20-25 000 for this game. In total “only” 17 000 was at Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski this evening but the atmosphere was quite good and the game was really entertaining. Vardar had a great chance early on but it was Dinamo who would score first, 0-1 via an own-goal in the 21st minute. It was then 0-2 in the 30th minute and the game seemed over. Until the second goal the atmosphere was very good but it was for obvious reasons much quieter inside the ground by now. When Vardar pulled a goal back in the 54th minute the singing and chants from the home fans were loud again. Vardar hit the woodwork three times, including the underside of the crossbar in the 92nd minute, but Dinamo held on and won 2-1. A great game came to an end. After the game I went to the press conference but being in the local languages I didn´t understand much. Around mid-night I was back at my hotel and I quickly fell asleep.
My flight back home was not until 18.15 on Wednesday evening and I did plenty of sightseeing on Wednesday as well before flying back home. Next week I will go to Croatia for five games. Hopefully the temperatures will be a bit lower than they were in Macedonia.
Sightseeing pictures from Skopje
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great
Mother Teresa memorial house
Pictures from Vardar Skopje v Dinamo Zagreb
Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski (view from the fortress)
Rear of the South Stand
Nacionalna Arena Filip II Makedonski
Rear of the South Stand
Rear of the North Stand
Police in armour
Sunset in Skopje
Players and officials entering the field
Dinamo Zagreb fans
View of play
View of play
View of play
Shirts are off
After the match
Zlatko Kranjcar (manager of Dinamo Zagreb)
Goce Sedloski (manager of Vardar Skopje)