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FEATURE 09 Aug 17

Macedonia Basks in Super Cup Success

Visiting fans and locals had nothing but praise for the organisers of the UEFA Super Cup final between Real Madrid and Manchester United, which brought a party atmosphere to the capital Skopje.

Zoran Milosavljevic

Buzzing with excitement weeks before staging its biggest international sports event to date, Macedonia made the headlines for all the right reasons after hosting Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup final between Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Along with the perennial giants of the continent’s soccer scene, thousands of fans descended on the Balkan nation’s capital Skopje, which burst into life amid the searing summer heat.

Most of them were Manchester United supporters who flocked from all over Europe and vastly outnumbered their Real Madrid counterparts.

Real’s fans had the last laugh however as the Spanish side edged their English rivals 2-1 in a spectacular match played in a packed National Arena with a capacity of 30,000.

The Macedonian government’s biggest concern was to ensure a trouble-free event and it was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief and even purr with delight after the showcase event, featuring the Champions League winners (Real Madrid) and the Europa League holders (Manchester United), lit up the August skies.
Singing their club’s anthems, United fans were impeccably behaved as they occupied every single bar, pub and nightclub in the city centre.

Coming from as far away as Norway and Finland, United fans congregated to proudly display their flags while struggling to deal with the scorching heat, as temperatures soared to 40 degrees Celsius.
Vukan Jovanovic, a 43-year-old clerk, was one of a dozen or so fans who came from Serbia’s capital Belgrade and was impressed with Macedonian hospitality as well as the event’s organisation.

“I am here as a United fan and the atmosphere has been phenomenal so far,” Jovanovic told BIRN as he sat for a veal broth meal in one of the old town’s restaurants several hours before the game.

“The build-up has been fantastic with so many fans having a good time and mingling together. This was a rare opportunity for Skopje to stage an event of this magnitude, as it’s unlikely any city in the region will ever stage a match involving Manchester United and Real Madrid in the near future,” he added.

Leonid Ristev, a lawyer from the Macedonian city of Bitola, also turned up to see United in the flesh for the first time and was overjoyed that the organisers accomplished their task with flying colours.

“I am glad it’s happening here because I am a proud Macedonian and it’s great to see Skopje so alive and captivated by the event,” Ristev said.
The decision by European soccer governing body UEFA to entrust Skopje with the task of staging the match was fully vindicated as there was no sign of trouble before, during and or after the match.

Roared on by more than 10,000 fervent supporters, United tried as hard as they could to stage an upset but were undone by goals from Brazilian midfielder Casemiro and Spain’s outstanding forward Isco before Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for the English team to set up a dramatic finish.

In the days leading up to the match, some of the fans discovered the gorgeous Lake Matka on Skopje’s outskirts, where a dip in the ice-cold water and a boat tour of the magnificent canyon were a perfect respite from the strength-sapping exertions of downing one pint after another in the city’s pubs.

Two English fans and several Spaniards said they took a bus ride from Bulgaria to watch the game, while Nathan, a teenager from Luton, was delighted as he sipped a beer on a pirate-style boat docked on the banks of the Vardar river, a major tourist attraction.

“It feels fantastic to be here,” he said. “It’s my first overseas trip to watch United, I am here on my own and loving every minute of it.”

The Spanish fan contingent had more to cheer about after the game, but both sets of supporters kept up the good atmosphere as they headed for the old town’s castle, which was staging an annual beer festival, while some of them also went to an electronic dance music party at the city’s landmark nightclub Sector 909.

Dealing with a bit of hangover the morning after, both locals and visitors were looking forward to an opportunity of a reunion at some point in the future.

“This was such a great thing for Skopje and I really hope we can have another such event soon,” said Boban, a local taxi driver.

“Macedonia needs this kind of promotion on the world map,” he added.

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