Neither Austria nor Spain could break the deadlock after 120 long minutes, forcing the first Euro 2017 match to penalties, Austria the victors from the spot.
Spain take the initiative
A mixed bag through the group stages, Spain started strong, keen to banish the demons of a loss to Scotland, nearly missing out on a spot in the knock-outs. One goal more for Portugal or one less for England, at the same stadium three days before would have meant an early exit for La Roja. So, on the same pitch where their neighbours very nearly did the unthinkable and qualified in their place, Spain set the tempo, keen to test out the Austrian defence from early on.
Up against an Austria team who much-preferred the underdog tag, coming into the quarter-final as group winners they weren’t given the same attention as in the groups, nor were they allowed to hit the ground running and press high up the pitch. Disjointed, Das Team looked weakened at the back, their attackers out of sorts, the swagger and rhythm they’d shown against France, Iceland and Switzerland not apparent in Tilburg.
The first fifteen minutes passed without incident, two shots from range from Vicky Losada and Maria León the only things of note, Manuela Zinsberger more than comfortable in dealing with both. Jiving a little more after the quarter hour, Austria had a have decent attack, a slice of luck involved as Sarah Zadrazil and Laura Feiersinger linked-up, the move cut out but a reminder of how to play.
Another shot from outside the area had the Spanish half of the crowd interested, Amanda Sampedro the one to take aim, her effort across the box wide.
A cheeky little steal by Feiersinger received a roar from the crowd as she took off running into space with the ball, without an option she slowed down and allowed the Spanish to regain possession. One team still far more settled than the other.
A game of pinball in the box, ten minutes before the break, had those in white scrambling, unable to clear the ball with the pressure mounting. Finally, able to get out of their own half again, Austria looked for link-up, the flag routinely raised whenever they looked to find a groove.
A lull in the game saw first, an injury to Lisa Makas then a hopeful shot from Silvia Meseguer from outside the box, Zinsberger rooted as the ball drifted wide. Despite the parity at the break, the chances had predominantly come the way of Spain, Austria still without their rhythm, but Spain still lacking when it mattered.
The second-half started as uninspired as the first, the game still lacklustre, Nadine Prohaska’s header from an early corner the exception, Sandra Paños tested for the first time as she jumped on the ball. A dipping shot from over 30-yards from Meseguer almost had Zinsberger caught out as she was forced to tip it ‘round the top corner, Spain building once again. The flag raised against a white shirt once more as they tried in vain to go forward, the team still unable to build.
Less than pretty
Another shot on Zinsberger’s come came in from some distance, the ball both high and wide, Spain left frustrated despite having had the better of it.
But the game was broken and fragmented, niggles and give-aways stemmed the natural ebb and flow of the game, so even when a poor pass from Paños dropped for Feiersinger there was little that could be done. The SC Sand woman panicking in the box and she twisted and turned, caught around defenders, Nina Burger in the same fix as her teammate found her with the ball, her shot sent into the side-netting.
The game wore on, dragging, neither side wanting extra time but neither able to find the inspiration for a goal. The last action of the 90 minutes, a Jenni Hermoso punt from distance, the ball dipping but not fast enough.
Extra time started as the second-half had ended, Spain getting the ball forward but with little in the way of an end product, Austria doing enough at the back. Zinsberger called into action two thirds of the way through the first period, to claim a shot (from distance) from Leon. Red and white tussled back and forth, the 22 on the pitch consistently below par, the crowd growing weary of the dull crunch game.
With penalties looming ever nearer, Spain were still the team doing the majority of the pressing and creating, Olga García’s shot early in the last fifteen minutes a scuffed effort that drifted harmlessly wide. The play still broken and frustrated as the seconds ticked down, a spot in the last four for whoever could magic something up or hold their nerve from the spot.
Penalties to decide the semi-finalist
First up, Feiersinger showed no nerves, emphatically punching her spot kick into the top corner of the net. Calm as you like, Garcia tucked her penalty into the bottom left corner, Zinsberger near but not near enough.
The first to go right, Burger wasn’t clinical but with the ‘keeper sent the wrong way it mattered not. Sampedro followed suit, her penalty tucked right inside of the post.
Giving Paños the eyes, Aschauer sent the stopper the wrong way before rolling the ball into the left side of the goal. The first save belonged to Zinsberger, Meseguer’s penalty to her right saved by the Bayern Munich ‘keeper
Next up, substitute Viktoria Pinther who calmly punched the back of the net with her firm strike from 12-yards. Marta Corredera kept Spain in it with a sublime strike that went it off of the inside of the post.
Only needing to score to send Austria though, Sarah Puntigam came up trumps to beat Paños and keep the debutants in the competition and set-up a semi-final against Denmark.