Dragons roaring at home
The visitors started well, as many expected, Austria are somewhat the surprise package of Euro 2017 qualifying but the nerves began to tell as they sunk back into themselves. Wales were een to go out with a bang at home did well press the group runners up.
Natasha Harding’s persistence almost paid off as the ball ran for Kayleigh Green but the chance was wasted as she was squeezed wide. A nod to the nerves of the visitors was Manuela Zinsberger picking up a yellow for distractedly claiming a lofted ball outside of her box.
Sensing blood Wales did their best to work their opposition, getting forward wide and trying to find Helen Ward in the box. Sterling tenacity from Green saw the attacker battle into the box, holding off her marker, with the ball on her toe. With the angle narrowing the Yeovil forward opted for a lay-off with Harding making the run into the box, but her contact was left wanting as she skewed the ball hopelessly wide.
More open after the interval
After what most can assume was a stern half-time dressing down from Dominik Thalhammer, Austria played with decidedly more purpose after the break, keeping the hosts penned back. With Austria having their tails up, made sure to keep the home defence honest, Sophie Ingle with a string of notable – and meaty – tackles.
From one spell of pressure to another as Wales began to assert themselves once again, enjoying their possession, Jess Fishlock’s direct free kick drifted just wide of Zinsberger’s far post. Breaking on the counter once more, the crowd fully behind their team let out a roar as Ward picked it up on the left side of the box before firing her cross directly at Zinsberger.
With little more than ten minutes left on the clock the visitors were left holding their heads asking how they weren’t ahead after Laura O'Sullivan awkwardly spilled Sarah Puntigam’s corner delivery. With a cluster of red and white shirts around her by the near post, no one in white could capitalise as the ball was eventually cleared.
Once again Laura Feiersinger was on the attack, searing into the box but as was the theme of the night the final ball was lacking and O'Sullivan was largely untroubled. At the other end, Harding was still full of running, tearing away on the right, her flashed delivery turned clear by Zinsberger.
With the game dragging to the death, Austria seemed content to hold on for the draw that would see them qualify for the finals. But Wales weren’t sticking to the script as Ward kept hounding the back line, chasing everything, tired legs against tired legs the game rolled to a scoreless draw.
Smiles all around
Despite playing some of their worst football of the qualifying stages Austria can take heart from qualifying for their first major tournament, though the football wasn’t always the best the point was enough to ensure they avoided the tricky play-offs. Das Team have already proven themselves in qualifying and were undoubtedly undone by nerves in Newport but will have to calm down before boarding their plane to the Netherlands next summer.
As has been said so often about Wales, the team is growing and growing. The Dragons did well to hold their own against Austria and capped off their qualifying campaign with a credible draw. Although Wales won’t be joining the likes of Austria and Norway in Holland next year, Jayne Ludlow will focus on the positives from the eight group games and already be thinking about how to keep developing and improving her side from France 2019.