By Deni Delev
Founded in 1937, Rabotnicki is one of the oldest clubs in Macedonia and only Vardar have won more titles than them. The best period for the team was between 1999 and 2008 when sponsor of the club was Kometal (thus the name from that period Rabotnicki Kometal). In that period they won 3 league titles and 2 cups. In season 2013-14 they went on to win another double, and last season they successfully defended their cup title. They play their games at the biggest stadium in Macedonia, the Philip II Arena which can accommodate 33 460 spectators.
Just like FC Flora, Rabotnicki is also a team that relies mainly on their youth academy, where most of their players come from and after a couple of good seasons are sold abroad or home. The latest such transfer was the extra talented central defender Darko Velkovski, who was sold to the champions Vardar for a record fee among Macedonian clubs (100 000 eur). But let’s go one by one. On the goal, we might expect to see Andreja Efremov who established himself as a number one for the coach Angelov since his arrival from Metalurg last winter. The „wall“ in front of him consists of Milan Ilievski, who is the most experienced player in the team with his 32 years. After the departure of Velkovski, he is expected to be partnered with either Leon Najdovski (a 20-year old defender touted as one of the brightest prospects in his position in Macedonia) or Kire Ristevski (occasional national team player), who was brought from KF Tirana and is expected to get advantage over Najdovski for the European games. Mite Cikarski operates the left full-back position, while Goran Siljanovski is on the opposite side. Both are in their early twenties and they are both explosive runners with good sense for assist. In midfield, coach Angelovski has Dusko Trajcevski at the defensive midfield position. The 24-year old just recently had his debut for the national team (during a goalless draw against Australia) and was on trial at Lierse during the winter break. His presence in midfield gives extra solidity to Rabotnicki’s defensive line. His partner in the center of the park is Stevan Vujcic. He is one of the best players, the brain of the team and most of the attacks start from him. Suad Sahiti is an excellent young player from Kosovo and he plays on the right wing position. His position is not so secure at the moment because Angelovski for sure will be cautious in the first game trying not to open too much. His competition for a place in the starting line-up is the 25-year old Milovan Petrovic. He plays in a similar position as Vujcic. The front line of Rabotnicki is probably their strongest side. Marjan Altiparmakovski is a 23-year old attacker who mostly operates on behind the striker and he was the team’s top-scorer previous season with 13 goals. On the left side we have another exciting young player, the Norwegian with Nigerian origin, Chuma Anene. Although he scored only 3 goals last season (was injured for two months), he is described as a pacy attacker who is very strong in the air duels and causes trouble to every defender. Baze Ilijoski is arguably the best player in the team and some kind of a club legend. This is his 4th comeback in the team after his last successful spell in Bangkok Glass where he scored 9 goals in 14 matches. His impact was evident as he had similar effect with Rabotnicki (8 goals in 14 matches) since his return last winter.
Similar to Norbert Hurt, coach Igor Angelovski nourishes 4-2-3-1 formation that can easily transform to 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 given the diversity of his front line players.
STREAK IN EUROPE
Since 2005-2006 Rabotnicki is almost a regular in the European competitions. What is even more, they have quite an experience with teams from the former Soviet block having played against the likes of Vorskla, Skonto, Lokomotiv Moscow, Inter Baku, Mika, Narva Trans etc.
A fact that doesn’t help Flora fans a lot is that since 2005 Rabotnicki has been eliminated in the first round only twice (both in Champions League qualifiers), against Inter Baku in 2008-09 and last year when HJK Helsinki got the better of the two matches.
They have reached the 3rd round 3 times. In Champions League in 2006 they eliminated F91 and Debrecen, only to lose to Lille. In the UEFA cup in 2007-08 they passed the two qualifying rounds eliminating Gorica from Slovenia and Zrinjski from Bosnia, but were unlucky to lose to Bolton from England (2-1 agg.) In 2010-11 they made it again to the third round of Europa League after thrashing Lucitanians from Andorra (11-0 agg) and Mika from Armenia, but the draw wanted them to play against Liverpool (lost 0-4 agg).
The most successful European season for Rabotnicki was the following one, 2011-12 when they had 5 wins in a row in Europa League, eliminating Narva Trans, Juvenes Dogana and Anorthosis in the process. In the play-offs, however, they were drawn against Lazio who mercilessly eliminated them (1-9 agg)
Coach Igor Angelovski was very cautious in the interviews when asked about the expectations. He said that the main aim is to pass the first round and it is clear that although they don’t know much about FC Flora and Estonian football in general, the success against Trans Narva from few years ago gives them reasons to think positive for this duel. The strength of the team comes from the fact that they play excellent team football, the chemistry is at a very high level and after wrapping up the season with a cup title they will certainly look to add to that success. The biggest minus for them is that unlike their opponents, they are not in competitive form and even though they won all the games ahead of the tie against Flora, they still might look a bit rusty.
Anyway, they accept the favourite role in this tie and are willing to show their worth.