Germany are just one game away from their ninth EURO final, but they have suffered a terrible shock. Lina Magull’s first-half goal and a bizarre late goal from Alexandra Popp ended an intriguing, back-and-forth duel, but the Austrians came close and deserved extra time. The underdogs hit the woodwork three times, and although Germany did the same thing twice, they should be commended for making the fight. Maybe Martina Voss-Tecklenburg can prepare her players for a thrilling semi-final against France or the Netherlands, knowing that it will take a great team to oust them now.
Although these neighbors had only met twice before, there were few secrets between them. Eight of Austria’s starting XI play in Germany’s top flight, and that fact alone was a reminder that Irene Fuhrmann’s side, while clear underdogs, are quick-witted and increasingly battle-hardened. They started confidently after withstanding a small tornado in the opening seconds. The duels soon flew as they should and German defender Marina Hegering had to be treated after a tackle in midfield.
The Austrians were notable for their poise in the group stage, but also showed an explosive side when Julia Hickelsberger-Füller, charging through from a deft touch on the right, fired straight at Merle Frohms when she was well placed. Offensive might be the best defense: their defense was weakened by the injury of captain Viktoria Schnaderbeck, who was only on the bench and watched as Popp stormed over after the yellow break from Klara Bühl.
That was a disappointment but Austria made a lot out of the early race. They came agonizingly close in the 13th minute when Marina Georgieva, after Verena Hanshaw twirled a teasing corner from the right, was highest to head a header against the far post. A goal would have been fitting of their early work and Germany could feel forewarned.
The message was duly heeded. Germany were yet to gain momentum but were in top form after Manuela Zinsberger rushed a release under pressure from Popp. Eventually Bühl was able to dribble away on the left and cross over a low middle, which Popp left intelligently on the left and was crisply converted by Magull on the run. Zinsberger’s mistake had created little chance of a plate, but those who offer Germany a toll tend to be ruthlessly punished.
Now Germany could smell blood and Austria had to do at least what they had done against England: stay in the game after an early goal. They would need one of their own on top of that, but keeping the suspense up until half-time seemed a reasonable goal. Svenja Huth threatened that ambition with a devilish ball that hissed over the goal without touching a killer, followed by an angle shot that Zinsberger blocked, but the outcome remained highly questionable at the break.
It was almost over within 30 seconds of the restart when Giulia Gwinn, penetrating from her right-back position into the heart of the Austrian penalty area, struck the Zinsberger right outside post for the first time. A run from Bühl then caused chaos and there was a risk Austria would be finally overwhelmed in Germany’s most assertive period of the game.
Instead, they almost equalized in a stunning fashion. This time it was Frohms who undercooked a return but Barbara Dunst, one of the month’s most impressive players, had plenty to do from 40 yards. She made a few touches before a near-perfect shot over the keeper but shot off the bar and gasped. Frohms had cleverly assembled in front of Hickelsberger-Füller seconds earlier and the two sequences confirmed the fight remained full of life.
Germany looked increasingly delighted. Remarkably, Austria hit the woodwork for the third time in the 57th minute when Sarah Puntigam’s clean half-volley at Frohms shook a post.
This had blossomed into the competition everyone had been longing for, and certainly one that needed little help from the Mexican wave that rolled in just after the hour mark.
Popp fired a free header wide from a right wing cross before substitute Linda Dallmann towered over the ball and ensured proceedings remained on the razor’s edge.
Buhl dove a nasty 20-yarder to the top of the pole with 11 minutes left. Then she missed a sitter and the fact that that game had only scored one goal continued to seem like a trick of the mind.
When there was another, the hapless Zinsberger kicked Popp again and watched the rebound dashed Austria’s hopes.