Austria have never won a game at a European Championship, indeed they’ve only qualified twice and one of those was as hosts. Therefore, heading into the 2020 tournament, I wasn’t expecting much from a group of Germany, Serbia and Sweden.
The Austrian FA, on the other hand, were piling on the pressure – expecting us to qualify from the group. I’d have been happy with just grabbing Austria’s first win at the Euros, I needed more if I wanted to avoid the sack. So what happened?
As a reminder, we went into the Euros ranked as the world’s 20th best team, after a very successful qualifying campaign in which we only dropped points against Croatia.
Picking a squad was difficult because I was still somewhat uncertain about our strongest line-up but decided to commit to the narrow 4-1-3-2 meaning that Alessandro Schöpf, the Stuttgart wide midfielder, missed out.
Instead, we took the squad below with us to… well… Europe. Euro 2020 being an odd tournament spread across various European nations and cities, there wasn’t really a ‘destination’.
(light blue indicates Potzmann was the only Rapid Wien player in the squad, red indicates they are on my shortlist)
Warm-up friendlies saw us demolish Barbados and India as I wanted to boost morale ahead of the tournament. We’d played a couple of difficult games in March, losing to Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and the squad spirit needed a wee boost ahead of the tournament.
In good spirits heading into the opening game, much of the first team picked itself. With limited options up front and obvious standouts at the back, my only awkward decisions were in goal – where I opted for Red Bull Salzburg’s Cican Stankovic due to Strebinger’s lack of game time at Everton – and midfield.
The midfield conundrum comes from having a swathe of similarly decent-but-not-excellent players in there. I needn’t have concerned myself with deciding, however, because the exertions of a game every 3/4 days and the intensity with which I ask my midfield to play would necessitate near-constant rotation.
Two draws in our opening games – 2-2 against Sweden with a late Gregoritsch equaliser for us; and 1-1 against Serbia with Lazar Markovic savings the Balkans in the final minute – put us on the brink of an early exit.
With the final group game pitting us against neighbours and rivals Germany, and coincidentally hosted in Munich, I didn’t hold out much hope. A wonderful display of counter-attacking football (and a decent helping of luck, made Austria’s first ever European Championship victory extra sweet.
That left us top of the group and through to face Switzerland in the Second Round.
With the Swiss less inclined to attack than our common Germanic neighbour, we struggled to create any decent chances all game. But with Wimmer and Dragovic imperious in defense, we were giving little away and a David Alaba penalty was enough to see us through to the quarters.
Another famous victory followed as Guido Burgstaller, who would finish the championship as top scorer, scored in the 89th and 94th minute, to complete a well-deserved 2-0 victory over our southern neighbours this time – Italy.
Sadly, the semis were as far as we’d go as Spain, the eventual winners, proved too strong for the counter-attacking style that had succeeded against Germany and Italy.
Reaching the semis can only be deemed a huge success but brings with it the danger of increased expectations – something which has already become apparent in the FA’s expectation that we’ll top our World Cup qualifying group of Denmark, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Moldova.
And obvious problems remain. As covered in earlier posts, the deeper positions are well-covered for now and the immediate future with the majority of the squad young enough to realistically see out the next three or four international tournaments. Up front remains the overwhelming concern.
Guido Burgstaller has proven to be an enormously unexpected boon which makes it all the sadder that he’s already 31. Sabitzer’s cruciate injury and Gregoritsch’s inconsistency mean the two likely younger options need support. And quick.
Behind them comes… nothing. I haven’t found one striker I would consider an international prospect and so am in desperate need of a newgen or three to arrive. In the meantime, I’m looking at shoe-horning attacking midfielders Hannes Wolf (Salzburg) and Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim, on loan at Rapid) into more advanced roles with mixed success.
Alternatives to counter-attacking are also desperately needed, as evidenced by our struggles in the Nations League. We followed up our disappointing 2018 effort with an even more disappointing relegation in 2020.
Although here we were slightly unlucky, conceding a late equaliser to Ukraine and a late winner to Wales in the final two games – the latter of those moving us from the promotion spot to relegation. With this note being key…
Thankfully the FA didn’t care about the tournament and perhaps the experience against weaker opposition will help us sort out a consistent alternative to the counter that served us so well at Euro 2020.
I’ll be posting a wider update on the future of the national side shortly, covering the players that I’m hoping to bring through for each position. Until then, if you could all please pray to the newgen gods for a few strikers…