Goalkeeper Tanja Andrejeva is one of the most experienced players in Macedonian national handball team, as the ‘red-yellow’ team hope that after a four-year break, they will get the opportunity again to play in the final tournament of EHF EURO, which takes place this December in the Netherlands.
On Thursday in Skopje, the first of two matches in a few days between Macedonia and France will take place as part of the Group 4 qualification group round of games, which is completed by Turkey and Lithuania.
The game will be played in a smaller hall than normal in Skopje, SRC Kale, where the home fans will ensure a great atmosphere.
Playing the strong French side will be a real challenge for the Macedonian team, but both teams have their own motives for winning the games.
If FYR Macedonia win, they will be a step closer to the Netherlands whilst France know that if they beat the Macedonians twice then they will be qualified through to the final tournament.
After two rounds of matches in the group, France have won two games, against Lithuania and Turkey, FYR Macedonia beat Lithuania but loss away in Turkey.
After participating in the 2001 and 2007 World Championship and EHF EURO 2006 and 2008, Andrejeva again hopes of playing at a major international tournament. She told ehf-euro.com what she expects from her next handball matches.
ehf-euro.com: FYR Macedonia will play two matches against France who, to many, are the clear favourites to win. What chance do you have to win and is it possible to surprise such a strong opponent?
Tanja Andrejeva: I just know that we would not surrender. Therefore, I demand more support from the fans that will fill the sports hall. We know how well we play when we have support from the stands and against France we need such support. With our sports spirit and what we know we can give on court, we certainly are not without a chance.
ehf-euro.com: How close or how far are FYR Macedonia from reaching EHF EURO 2012 in the Netherlands?
Tanja Andrejeva: So close, but well away. We made it a little more farther than we desired, after our defeat against Turkey, but I've improved my work. Now we are forced to walk on the hard road, but it is not impossible to demand points from the France matches.
ehf-euro.com: You will play two matches with France, but are you already thinking what awaits you at the end of May and early June - duels with Turkey and Lithuania?
Tanja Andrejeva: If you look at our group honestly, France is favoured to beat Turkey, and should we decide our own results when we have our rematch with Turkey. But we do not want wait until that match (Turkey vs. France) as we want to finish the job and win points on Thursday (22 March) and qualify for EHF EURO 2012.
ehf-euro.com: Since 2008 FYR Macedonia has not participated in an EHF EURO or World Championships, always missing out by some small margin, such as play-offs. Do the Macedonian players feel any pressure or feel that this could be their last chance to return to an international tournament?
Tanja Andrejeva: We have pressure on every match we play. We want to win every match and it is the same for the France matches.
After Julija Portjanko (now Nikolik) hit the bar in last second in the match against the Netherlands several years ago and we missed our chance to qualify for EHF EURO 2010 in Denmark, the Macedonian women’s national team took a few steps back. Now we want to fix it, but we know that FYR Macedonia only has only one really big women’s club team, Metalurg, and all others are smaller.
This is reflected in the national team because we don’t have enough quality players. The pressure is big; it's no small thing to play against the 2011 World Championship runners-up. I will be happy if France have a bad day like we had in Turkey.
ehf-euro.com: What do you about the French team who play in Skopje? Where do you see your chances for success?
Tanja Andrejeva: There is not one individual quality in our team that can resist the French side - our chance is the collective defence and if you oppose collectively as a team, then our chances are great.
ehf-euro.com: As a goalkeeper which of the French players is most feared and would be the most difficult to face?
Tanja Andrejeva: Analyses are made constantly and we are looking for weaknesses from each player. There is not one with extra quality, because all of them are on the same level, but their back-court players will provide us with the most problems.
ehf-euro.com: What motivates you against France?
Tanja Andrejeva: It is enough that we are competing against France for a place at EHF EURO 2012. No bigger motivation is needed. Disincentives would be if the match itself starts bad and we are consistently negative in our play. I wish that we can start well, take a lead and to maintain this and to fight to the end.