SKOPJE (Reuters) - Goran Pandev made his international debut in 2001 aged 17 and two decades later he heads to Euro 2020 as the main man in a North Macedonia side making their maiden major tournament bow.
The 37-year old forward, his country's all-time top scorer and most capped player with 37 goals in 117 games, also found time to establish in 2010 a club called Akademija Pandev.
They were promoted to North Macedonia's first division in 2017 and in 2019 they won the Balkan nation's domestic cup, adding gloss to Pandev's trophy-laden playing career mainly spent in Italy.
Pandev enjoyed his most successful spell at Inter Milan from 2009-12, helping them win the 2010 treble of Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League titles under Jose Mourinho.
After two years at Napoli and a one-year spell at Turkish club Galatasaray, Pandev returned to Italy in 2015 to join Genoa where he is still banging in the goals.
He is the driving force for his national team, securing North Macedonia's place at Euro 2020 by scoring in a 1-0 win over Georgia in the playoff final last November.
Pandev's prodigious work ethic has been complemented by his natural talent which has enabled him to play in a number of attacking positions.
He can lead the line as a lone striker or play in a deeper role or as a wide player, giving his national team coach Igor Angelovski the scope to deploy different tactics depending on the opposition.
Whether Pandev can play three group matches in nine days at Euro 2020 remains to be seen, but he will be crucial in North Macedonia's bid to reach the last 16.
All three group rivals, Austria, Ukraine and Netherlands, will be wary of his finishing prowess which also helped North Macedonia secure a shock 2-1 win away to Germany in a World Cup qualifier in March.
Pandev's neat footwork and close control will be key to North Macedonia's hopes as they step into the uncharted territory of a major tournament.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ed Osmond)