Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko admitted his side were scared off by North Macedonia, as goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk sealed a Group C victory in Bucharest.
Ruslan Malinovsky missed a late-game penalty to make Ukraine sweat after Ezgjan Alioski pushed back a goal, following when Georgiy Bushchan saved his shot on goal.
Shevchenko said: “This part of the European Championship is a very different atmosphere, every second the balance of the team can change. The team played a very good first half but then our mistake resulted in a penalty.
“Then there was some anxiety and nervousness. We had more chances and should have scored a third, but we also have to congratulate our rivals. North Macedonia has character.
Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk each scored in under five minutes for Ukraine. West Ham’s Yarmolenko opened the scoring after 29 minutes when he converted from close range after Oleksandr Karavayev took a corner kick. Yarmolenko then became a supplier when he slipped to Yaremchuk to beat Stole Dimitrievski low to his left.
Goran Pandev saw a strike denied for offside soon after, but North Macedonia fended off a goal after 57 minutes. Karavayev brought down Pandev after Bushchan brilliantly turned Aleksandar Trajkovski’s shot on the bar. The goalkeeper saved Alioski’s penalty but the Leeds player continued to score.
Ukraine had the opportunity to avoid late nerves and Malinovsky saw his penalty stop by Dimitrievski six minutes from time after Daniel Avramovsky handled the striker’s free kick.
North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski said: “The game lasts 90 minutes and the goal was to be more careful at the start, unfortunately we conceded from a corner.
“In the second half we saw the real Macedonia and why we are here at the European Championship.
“Congratulations to the boys on the great game in the second half. If the audience rewards you with that kind of applause, it indicates that you played a good game. You saw, unlike the first game, they played completely relaxed and it was the real Macedonia. There is no greater motivation than playing against a great Dutch team [next]. »