Austria could make history when they take on underdogs North Macedonia in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday, earning their first ever win in the competition, coach Franco Foda said on Saturday.

Austria are the favourites against the small Balkan nation, but in their only other appearances at the tournament, as co-hosts in 2008 and in France in 2016, they drew twice and lost four times.

“We have a very good atmosphere and we have waited for a year for this,” Foda told a virtual news conference for the Azeri capital. “We want to win it at all cost, start the tournament on a positive foot.

“I feel no pressure and it told the team and the players that we can make history tomorrow and that is our aim.”

The Austrians have twice beaten the North Macedonians in the qualifiers, with Foda saying they now know their weaknesses.

Having gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, North Macedonia had never come close to appearing on the big stage before a 1-0 win over Georgia in their playoff final via the Nations League propelled them to the tournament.

“We know our opponents strengths. They are quick to transition and pounce on mistakes. We have to be focused on how we build up our game,” said Foda.

“We want to desperately win that game, then we can go on and define other goals.”

Foda said it was still unclear whether forward Marko Arnautovic, only recently back from injury, would start or would come on later.

“It is up to the coach to decide,” Foda said, after the forward declared himself fit.

“He only trained twice before the (friendly against) Slovakia last week. He played 25 minutes… We will see.”

Ukraine and the Netherlands complete Group C.

Qualifying for his first major international tournament is a fitting reward for North Macedonian forward Goran Pandev, the Balkan nation’s coach Igor Angelovski said ahead of their Euro 2020 Group C clash with Austria on Sunday.

The 37-year old forward netted the winner in a 1-0 win at Georgia in their playoff final to steer his country to their maiden big stage appearance after enjoying a fine club career mainly in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am so happy for our captain because I told him six years ago that he is too good a player to never take part on the biggest international stage,” Angelovski told a news conference on Saturday.

“I talked him out of international retirement and I am truly delighted that he will lead the team tomorrow. He deserves a bow from me and my staff, his team mates and all North Macedonian citizens.”

Pandev, who said earlier on Saturday on his Instagram profile that he may call time on his international career after Euro 2020, has scored 37 goals in 119 international appearances since his debut in 2001.

He said a pair of defeats by Austria in Euro 2020 qualifying would have no bearing on the clash in Bucharest, adding that the North Macedonians did not get carried away after their stunning 2-1 win against Germany in 2022 World Cup qualifying in March.

“We can’t wait for the match to start and we will head into it confident that we can get a result.”

“We don’t have a good experience playing Austria, but we have improved tactically since those two losses and we believe we can cause an upset.

“We are like a big family here, we breathe as one and tomorrow. We will wear our hearts on our sleeve to win. We’re dreaming of reaching the knockout stage, and the opening game is so important.”

North Macedonia will also face Ukraine in Bucharest and the Netherlands in Amsterdam and Angelovski said the tournament was the perfect opportunity for the former Yugoslav republic, which gained independence in 1991 to reward their fans.

“We are very excited to be on the big stage for the first time, as we’ve been waiting for this moment since we became an independent nation,” he said.

“Our fans will finally be able to root for their own country on the big stage instead of perennially having to pick someone else. We will fight tooth and nail to delight them, as they’ve had to dig deep into their slim budgets to be here.”