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Austria vs England

‘We just love proving people wrong!’ – Austria out to upset England’s Euro champions

4:42 pm AEST 3/9/22
Austria Women composite
The two face off in qualifying for the 2023 Women's World Cup, both having had successful summers at the Women's Euros

When England last faced today's opponents Austria, the post-match atmosphere as players passed through to speak to the media, contrasted starkly with the result.

It was the opening game of a Euros campaign that would end with the Lionesses triumphing, winning their first ever major tournament in unforgettable fashion. But it started with a far from memorable 1-0 win against Austria, the occasion massive as 68,781 turned out at Old Trafford, but the performance stuttering as the unfavoured nation harried and pressured them like few others have done.

They almost spoiled the party, something they’ll look to do again this weekend to keep their unlikely hopes of finishing top of the World Cup qualifying group alive, while strengthening their ambitions for a seeded spot in the play-offs.

Underneath the headline of the summer as England brought football ‘home’, quarter-finalists Austria were one of the stories of the Euros. But they are not just a story for this year. The signs shown in July were as promising for the future as for that tournament. They’ll be a thorn in England’s side this weekend, and for any side moving forward.

That much was felt when Lionesses Lauren Hemp and Fran Kirby reflected on the game after these two last met. The mood was relief. They had got three points which would certainly, as what followed shows, get rid of the nerves that surrounded a much-hyped evening.

When Austria midfielder Sarah Zadrazil stopped to talk, meanwhile, she was very pleased – or, in her words, “super happy”. Her team had lost the game, but there were plenty of positives in what was a “bonus game” against the favourites.

What followed was a tournament not too many expected from Irene Fuhrmann’s side. They finished second in a group that saw Norway crash out in spectacular fashion, head coach Martin Sjogren leaving his role shortly after a group stage exit that included an 8-0 defeat to England, and posed Germany plenty of problems in the quarter-finals – hitting the woodwork three times before losing 2-0.

After that game, Zadrazil was upbeat again, as was fellow midfielder Laura Feiersinger. Their team had just gone toe-to-toe with the eventual finalists, one of the world’s best.

“We're always the underdog and no one really has us on the list,” Zadrazil told GOAL, after saying she believed Austria had “definitely” impressed a few in England. “We just love proving people wrong.

“I think we showed, again, what being a team means and what you can achieve as a team. Maybe we don't have the best individual players out there, but I think we have a strong team and that's what matters and that's what's successful.”

The Bayern Munich star might be doing herself a disservice there, as she is one of the best midfielders in Europe. Austrian players might not grab the headlines, but added to Zadrazil’s quality, striker Nicole Billa is one of just two foreign players to be named Footballer of the Year in Germany – the other being Pernille Harder – while Arsenal’s Manuela Zinsberger was the stand-out goalkeeper in the Women’s Super League last season.

However, team spirit and togetherness are certainly star characteristics of this national team.

“We always have fun shortly before the games, which is, I think, very important because somehow you get waken up, you're there and you just enjoy everything,” Feiersinger explained.

“From the moment we go outside, on the pitch, everything changes. That's so fascinating for me as well because sometimes I'm in the locker room and I'm like, 'Okay, we have a game in five minutes. We have the semi-finals or the quarter-finals and, it's insane in here'. But as soon as we step on the pitch, everything changes.”

All of that is headed up by Fuhrmann, one of the most impressive coaches at the Euros. To watch an Austria team is to watch 11 players who know exactly what the game plan is, what their role is and how to execute what is being asked of them.

“I think tactically we are always well prepared against the opponents and that's one part, but she also lets us have our individual bits,” Zadrazil explained, giving a glowing review of a coach who only took charge last July. “She doesn't say, 'You have to play this way or this way'. We can be creative as well.

“I think the best thing is that she keeps a good team spirit and that she keeps the team together and that everyone is happy and has a good feeling. I think that's what makes us so successful.”

“We have young players, great young players,” Feiersinger added. “I think they need a few more years to develop and I think Irene is the perfect coach for them.”

Many of those young stars got great exposure at the Euros – such as midfielder Marie-Therese Hobinger, winger Julia Hickelsberger-Fuller and recent Arsenal signing Laura Wienroither. Lisa Kolb and Maria Plattner, the two 21-year-olds who missed the Euros due to Covid and injury respectively, are right at the front of that exciting next generation, too.

“It's very important,” Feiersinger replied, asked how crucial the summer’s experience would be going forward. “I think it's also so important for everyone that everyone starts believing that we are a great team, that we are great players and that everything is possible - especially for the future.

“I think this tournament also showed that that we have quality and that we can be very proud of ourselves and that we won't stop.”

England are unlikely to have forgotten how tough this team is to face – but a high-profile fixture like Saturday’s may serve as a reminder to many that Austria is a team to keep an eye on as yet another major tournament approaches over the horizon.