| 14.2°C Dublin

Balkans bitten by travel bug


The Irish like to think of ourselves as travellers who plant the flag all over the world, but Macedonia's footballers truly are adventurous.

The squad named for tomorrow's game in Dublin contained players who are with clubs in 13 different countries, from sunny Cyprus to deepest Siberia and from the glamour of Serie A (Inter Milan man Pandev) to the obscurity of the league in Azerbaijan. They're certainly a nation with itchy feet: Macedonia have players playing professionally in no less than 38 countries, from Albania to Vietnam, Switzerland to Saudi Arabia and China to Holland.


We've had two disasters over there at senior international level, but Richie Baker was the last Irishman to score a goal in Macedonia. He scored from a free kick to give Shelbourne a 1-0 win over Sloga Jugomagnat in the preliminary qualifying round of the Champions League in 2000.


Here's one for the pub quiz: name the two players from the probable starting line-ups in tomorrow's Euro 2012 qualifier at Lansdowne Road who have played at Finn Park in Donegal?

Midfielder Velice Sumulikoski not only has a syllable-clogged name which will leave Irish broadcasters praying he sees little of the ball, but he's travelled longer than anyone else to play in tomorrow's game at Lansdowne Road, as he's based in Siberia, earning his wages with Russian second division side Sibir Novisibirsk, a trek of 3,300 miles.

But he spent two years in England, playing for Ipswich and Preston (2008-'10) and he played for Roy Keane's side in a friendly against Finn Harps in the summer of 2009. It wasn't a happy occasion for the team (a young Harps side beat Ipswich 2-1) or Sumulikoski as it was one of his last games for the club, Keane selling him to Preston weeks later.

A batch of Irish players (Shane Supple, Alex Bruce, Damien Delaney, Owen Garvan, Alan Quinn and current international Jonathan Walters) all played for Ipswich that day in Donegal.

But to the best of our knowledge, the only Irish player likely to start tomorrow who played at Finn Park was Kevin Doyle, who scored in a 2-0 win for Cork City over Harps in March 2005.


Scan the official UEFA website this week and you won't see any reference to Ireland playing Macedonia tomorrow. Officially, as far as UEFA are concerned, it's FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) who are in Dublin this week, and the name issue (the Greeks insist on that name to avoid any confusion or territorial claims on a province in Greece called Macedonia) is a very thorny one. Just ask Darron Gibson what part of Londonderry he's from and you'd get the idea.


One of those involved in tomorrow's game could be back in Dublin later this season, as Spartak Moscow's Aiden McGeady -- and Macedonia star Goran Popov -- are aiming to reach the Europa League final. Popov is a key player for Dynamo Kiev and was on the receiving end of some nastiness from Mario Balotelli in the last round when Dynamo knocked out Manchester City.