LONDON – For those who had followed Austria and Germany through the Euro 2022 group stage, on paper there was only one way to go for this quarter-final. Ahead of the game at the Brentford Community Stadium, analysts agreed on how the two teams would line up and how Germany would dominate the ball, leaving Austria to hold a solid defensive shape and try to break.
At least that’s what was supposed to happen. But when the game settled into a rhythm in the first half, it was Austria who were the team on top, it was Austria who saw the best chances and it was Austria who caused the opposition to panic in defence.
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Dubbed the “best of the rest” outside the world’s top five ranked teams by Chelsea manager Emma Hayes (serving as an ESPN analyst at the tournament), Austria finally showed the attacking football Irene Fuhrmann has been keen to instill in her team. Even when Germany took the lead after 25 minutes through Lina Magull’s low strike, the trailing team only increased their attacks.
One of the best teams in the group stage, Germany had taken all three of their games in stride, adapting to the style of their opposition and looking as comfortable with the ball as without it. A nation with a breathtaking European pedigree, having won the European Championship eight times previously, if any team was likely to make it through the knock-out rounds, the assumption was that it would have been Die Mannschaft. But the more Austria pressed, the weaker Germany looked.
For all Austria’s attacking intent, the nation playing in only its second European quarter-final could not find a way to goal, the team with the unfortunate distinction of being the second in this tournament to hit the woodwork multiple times (three to be precise) in one game. The balls in Brentford seemingly magnetized, Germany had previously hit the frame of the goal three times in the opening game at the same stadium. Austria’s efforts were underrated, but very close for the team bidding to knock out the Germans.
It is often said that to win titles you need luck as well as skill and talent, in their group games Germany had shown a lot of skill and talent and at Brentford it was luck on display for the team ranked fifth in the world. The team were uncomfortable in defense but saved by the woodwork, their own poor finishing kept the game in the balance.
“That’s football. It’s one centimeter to the left or the right, but I can’t blame my team for anything. They tried everything, we had periods where we really challenged Germany and this is something we have to build on and now we have to pick up bring in new players and the veterans must stay on the ball, and I think we will have a great future with this national team, said Fuhrmann.
As the clock ticked down to the inevitable, the game began to drag on with both teams spurning good chances, neither Merle Frohms nor Manuela Zinsberger being able to relax. When Klara Bühl missed the chance to put the game to bed late in the day, the team in red could breathe a sigh of relief as the ball trickled wide. However, it was a short-lived relief when Alex Popp scored four goals in as many games this summer when she blocked Zinsberger’s clearance, the ball pinged off the veteran and ended up in the back of the net.
“It was a bit annoying [hitting the cross bar] but I think we played very well in the first 15-20 minutes and if we scored the first goal it would have been much better for us,” said Laura Feiersinger from Austria. “But today Germany scored the first goal and it was very difficult for us. us. Once you’re behind you always try to try, but Germany are a good team so they make it very difficult for you… I think we were a bit unlucky.”
It was an ugly goal, but strangely the game, both teams with their chances to strike and neither able to take, the wayward finish symptomatic of the occasion. The pressure of knockout football on display from a German side that has noticeably fallen off the pace in tournaments of late. The match from Austria one of defiance and joy, another outing at the EC when there was little weight of expectation on their shoulders from external sources, the freedom to get out and play without fear of bringing out their best football.
“We expected them to be very strong, we just weren’t brave enough to do what we wanted to do. We had to play more balls behind their back line, but that’s something we can watch and learn from. They pushed a little bit differently than in previous games, so it was good that we could get 1-0, as it gave us a bit more certainty for the rest of the game, said Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.
It was the end, it was the quantifiable margins, the width of a crossbar the biggest difference between the two nations on the night. Good luck to the Germans on a night when they needed something to draw them from their own sub-par football, the game a lesson Voss-Tecklenburg and her players must learn from in the short time available before their semi-final against either France or the Netherlands.
“We weren’t always the best team, we weren’t always the favourites, but we always found a way to survive and with every game we would build momentum,” said ESPN analyst Steffi Jones, a World Cup winner with Germany who had also coached made.
With the balance for the former champions, for the first time this tournament, there will be a lot for Voss-Tecklenburg and her team to analyze before their next match. They need to focus on their own mistakes on Thursday, rather than finding the best ways to exploit their next opponent.