Austria Break 39-Year Duck, And It Feels Like There's More In Them

With David Alaba, Marko Arnuatovic and more, this is a squad which can do more
18:53, 21 Jun 2021

The last time Austria progressed beyond the group stage of a major tournament, former Barcelona star Hans Krankl was their star player, the Falklands War was just coming to an end and the birth of Prince William was making world news.

A full 39 years on from the 1982 World Cup, Austria have finally made it through a group at a major finals once more following their 1-0 win over Ukraine in Bucharest on Monday which confirmed a second-place finish in Group C at Euro 2020. They now will meet Italy in the Round of 16.

Their second win of the tournament could have been far more convincing than it ended. Christoph Baumgartner’s first-half goal came amid a tidal wave of pressure which Ukraine rarely able to stem. They should have had many more, particularly considering Marko Arnautovic’s glaring miss shortly before half-time.

Baumgartner strike capped a 20-minute period in which Austria had much the better of possession. The Hoffenheim midfielder poked a boot out to beat Illya Zabarnyi to David Alaba’s left-wing corner and goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan somehow let it go straight through him.

A stretching Arnautovic failed to bury a better chance even than Baumgartner’s goal, somehow missing the target from a perfectly-timed cross with only the keeper to beat, and by the break the only question was how Franco Foda’s side hadn’t made more of their 13 shots to Ukraine’s one.

STEFAN LAINER IS AMONG THOSE TO HAVE IMPRESSED AT EURO 2020
STEFAN LAINER IS AMONG THOSE TO HAVE IMPRESSED AT EURO 2020

Andriy Shevchenko sent his side out with more urgency after the break, but with Alaba, Arnautovic and Stefan Lainer prominent, it just felt like Das Team had the better supplies of quality in their line-up. Roman Yaremchuk, who had scored in both previous games for Ukraine, managed just nine touches in the first half in total, all of them outside box, and that said much about how they had failed to impose themselves.

Austria have something about them. They don’t always make the most of Alaba’s quality and Arnautovic’s impact can be unpredictable to say the least, but their creation of opportunities here was encouraging. But when they come up against Group A winners Italy at Wembley on Saturday they will need to prove they can be better in the final third than they have evidenced so far.

In their first match against North Macedonia they looked destined to drop points for a long period having not made the most of their superior quality, and that was the only question mark about their play on their return to Bucharest on Monday.

Foda can get more out of this squad, undoubtedly, but for now he and they ought to be national heroes of a sort. In the nearly four decades since their last success at this stage of a tournament, Austrian football has had little to shout about.

Even if nobody is rushing out to back them to win Euro 2020, neither can anybody say that they haven’t made a huge contribution. And with Alaba et al on hand, they may still have something to say before this tournament is out.

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