LONDON -- For those who had followed Austria and Germany through the group stage at Euro 2022, there was, on paper, only one way for this quarterfinal to go. Ahead of the game at Brentford Community Stadium, analysts agreed about how the two teams would line up and how Germany would dominate the ball, leaving Austria to hold a firm defensive shape and try and hit on the break.
That was what was supposed to happen at least. Yet when the match settled into a first half rhythm, it was Austria who were the team on top, it was Austria who were seeing the better chances and it was Austria who were causing their opposition to panic in defence.
Dubbed as the "best of the rest" outside of 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 25 minutes in by way of Lina Magull's low strike, the trailing team only increased their attacking endeavours.
One of the best teams during the group stages, Germany had taken all three of their matches in stride, adapting their style for their opponent and looking as comfortable with the ball as without it. A nation with a breathless European pedigree, having won the Euros eight times previously, if any team was likely to breeze through the knock-out rounds, the assumption was that it would have been Die Mannschaft. However, the more Austria pushed, the weaker Germany looked.
For all Austria's attacking intent the nation who were playing in just their second European quarterfinal couldn't find a route through to goal, the team with the unhappy distinction of being the second at this tournament to hit the woodwork multiple times (three to be precise) in one game. The balls in Brentford seemingly magnetised, Germany had previously struck the frame of the goal three times in their opening game at this same stadium. Austria's efforts were low-valued but achingly close for the team bidding to knock out the Germans.
It's often said that to win titles, you need luck as well as skill and talent, in their group games, Germany had displayed plenty of skill and talent and in Brentford, it was luck that was on show for the team ranked fifth in the world. The team uncomfortable in defence but saved by the woodwork, their own poor finishing keeping the game in the balance.
"That's football. It's one centimetre left or 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 that we have to build on and now we have to bring in new players and the veterans have to stay on the ball and I think we will have a great future with this national team," Fuhrmann said.
As the clock ticked down to the inevitable, the match began to stretch with both teams spurning good chances, neither Merle Frohms nor Manuela Zinsberger able to relax. When Klara Bühl fluffed her chance to put the match to bed late in the day, the team in red were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the ball trickled wide. It was a short-lived relief however as Alex Popp made it four goals in as many matches this summer when she blocked Zinsberger's clearance, the ball pinging off of the veteran and landing in the back of the net.
"It was a bit annoying [hitting the cross bar] but I think we played really good in the first 15-20 minutes and if we scored the first goal it would have been much better for us," said Austria's Laura Feiersinger. "But today Germany scored the first goal and it was very hard for us. Once you're behind, you always try and try but Germany is a good team so they make it very hard for you... I think we were a bit unlucky."
It was an ugly goal but oddly befitting the match, both teams with their chances to strike and neither able to take, the wayward finishing symptomatic of the occasion. The pressure of knockout football on show from a Germany team that have noticeable fallen off of the pace at tournaments of late. The match from Austria one of defiance and joy, another outing at the Euros when there was little weight of expectation on their shoulders from outside sources, the freedom to get out and play without fear bringing out their best football.
"We expected them to be very strong we just weren't courageous enough to do what we wanted to do. We had to play more balls behind their backline but it is something we can look at and learn from. They pressed a little differently than in previous games, so it was good we could get a 1-0 as it gave us a bit more security for the rest of the match," Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said.
It the end, it was the quantifiable margins, the width of a crossbar the biggest difference between the two nations on the night. Luck with the Germans on a night when they needed something to same them from their own sub-par football, the match a lesson that Voss-Tecklenburg and her players will have to learn from during the little time available before their semifinal against either France or the Netherlands.
"We were not always the best team, we were not always the favorites, but we always found a way to survive, and with each game, we'd build the momentum," said ESPN analyst Steffi Jones, a World Cup winner with Germany who had also coached the team.
With the balance off for the former champions, the first time this tournament, there will be plenty for Voss-Tecklenburg and her team to analyse before their next game. They'll have to focus on their own errors on Thursday, rather than find the best ways to exploit whoever their next opponents will be.