The convoluted and here’s-another-chance approach of merging qualification for the European Championships with participation in the Nations League ultimately saw the nation ranked 62nd in the world, who had never qualified for a major tournament as an independent nation, beat Georgia in a play-off match for the right to face the Continent’s finest.
Those sides reached the final of Pathway D, by virtue of winning their respective Groups in the Nations League D, the lowest of the four tiers in that Uefa competition. Regardless of the bizarre set of rules which allows two teams with six wins between them from 18 actual Euro 2020 qualifying matches to compete for a spot at that tournament, it was without question an emotional and tense occasion when their play-off final came around.
There was, of course, only one man for the job: Goran Pandev, the national legend, the former Inter Milan treble-winner and Serie A stalwart.
Now 37 years of age, he popped up to coolly clip in the only goal of the game to send his nation to Euro 2020 and give a generation of supporters a memory for the ages.
The last time the region qualified for a major international tournament, it was for Sweden ‘92 as part of Yugoslavia. The former nation was, of course, disqualified 10 days before the Euros started amid United Nations sanctions and bombs dropping in Sarajevo. Their replacements, Denmark, went on to win the lot.
There’s perhaps a sense of coming full circle for some then, at least for supporters who lost out on watching their national representatives on the international stage, and have never had another chance for three decades.
Now they can, now they will, and now we’ll see just how much they above all others can make the most of - or even justify - the changes to qualification, to numbers and to the format of an entire competition.
This isn’t all to say North Macedonia are no-hopers who have been handed a pointless shot at destiny. Only three months ago they beat Germany in a World Cup qualifier, while over the past two years they have seen off Israel and Slovenia and only narrowly lost to Austria.
But a one-off qualifier where time can be healer over eight or 10 games is one thing; hitting the ground running to cause upsets and emerge through a three-fixture group is quite another.
This squad will write history the instant they set foot on the pitch, but if they want to ultimately be more than just making up the numbers at a bigger tournament, an almighty effort will be required in every one of the 270 minutes they’ve already earned.
Sunday 13 June, 5pm - Austria vs North Macedonia
Thursday 17 June, 2pm - Ukraine vs North Macedonia
Monday 21 June, 5pm - North Macedonia vs Netherlands
Goalkeepers: Stole Dimitrievski (Rayo Vallecano), Risto Jankov (Rabotnicki), Damjan Siskovski (Doxa Katokopia).
Defenders: ï»¿ï»¿Egzijan Alioski (Leeds), Egzon Bejtulai (Shkëndija), ï»¿Visar Musliu (Fehérvár), Kire Ristevski (Újpest), Stefan Ristovski (Dinamo Zagreb), ï»¿Darko Velkovski (Rijeka), ï»¿ï»¿Gjoko Zajkov (Charleroi).
Midfielders: Arijan Ademi (Dinamo Zagreb), Enis Bardi (Levante), Darko Churlinov (Stuttgart)ï»¿, Eljif Elmas (Napoli), Feran Hasani (Partizani), Tihomir Kostadinov (RuÅ¾omberok), ï»¿Boban Nikolov (Lecce), ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿Milan Ristovski (Spartak Trnava), Stefan Spirovski (AEK Larnaca).
Forwards: Daniel Avramovski (Kayserispor), Goran Pandev (Genoa), Marjan Radeski (Akademija Pandev), Vlatko Stojanovski (Chambly), Aleksandar Trajkovski (Mallorca), Ivan TriÄkovski (AEK Larnaca), ï»¿ï»¿Krste Velkovski (Sarajevo).
Ones to watch
Goran Pandev. The war horse, the veteran, the general, the captain, the hero. He’s the most-capped player, the highest all-time scorer and the oldest in the squad by a mile. He has previously said he’ll retire after Euro 2020, but more recently hinted at still being undecided - either way he’ll want to write one more footnote in his international book of history-making first.
Elif Elmas. A talented 21-year-old attacking midfielder who is a regular squad option for Napoli. Plays a prominent role with the national team, supporting the front line either off the left or behind the forward.
Odds to win tournament - 500/1
No fairytale for North Macedonia unless they can force an upset - against Ukraine is probably their best bet, to then sneak a best third-place spot. It’s still unlikely. Out at the group stage.