Before the UEFA Women’s European Championship started, few had predicted that the first semi-final would be a battle between Denmark and Austria. However, after three group games and a quarter-final, they have emerged as two of the four best teams in the tournament and will fight for a spot in the Final on Sunday.
The road to the semi-final
While this was considered an unlikely semi-final it is by no means an undeserved one for either of the two teams. Denmark started their road to the semi-final on the first day of the tournament, when they faced Belgium in a game where Denmark won 1-0 because of an early goal from Sanne Troelsgaard. It was a hard fought game, where Denmark, especially in the second half, had to dig deep to win all three points. They followed their opening win up with a 1-0 loss to the host nation from the Netherlands, due to a first half penalty goal from Sherida Spitse.
This set up a much-anticipated final group stage match against Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbours from Norway, where Denmark could secure their quarter-final place. Once again, the game ended 1-0, and as with the opening game, it was in Denmark’s favour. Left-winger Katrine Veje netted the goal, but the heroics of Danish keeper Stina Lykke, which included a penalty save, were also crucial in securing all three points.
Denmark’s second place finish in Group A set up a quarter-final meeting with reigning champions Germany. Germany were heavy favourites for the game, and when they went ahead after just a few minutes, many thought that was it. Nonetheless, Denmark showed their resolve and quality and came back when Nadia Nadim scored shortly into the second half. Right-back Theresa Nielsen completed the triumph when she scored on a header with seven minutes to go.
Much like their opponents from Denmark, Austria started their tournament with a 1-0 win. The tournament debutants got off to the perfect start when their all-time top scorer, Nina Burger scored after just 15 minutes against Switzerland. They followed this result up with an impressive 1-1 draw against group favourites France. Lisa Makas was the woman behind the Austrian goal. Austria ensured their group win, when they beat Iceland with a resounding 3-0. Sarah Zadrazil opened the scoring in that game, before Burger added her second of the tournament. Stefanie Enzinger joined in on the fun and scored the third goal a minute before time.
As Group C winners, they were up against Spain, who finished second in Group D, in their quarter-final. It was not a game that will go down in history as the most thrilling of encounters, but it was an Austrian side who showed incredible tactical awareness and neutralised everything Spain had to offer. After 90 minutes and extra time, Austria ensured their semi-final place after 5-3 on penalties, in a shoot-out where all five Australian penalty takers netted their attempt.
Good memories for Austria
The two sides met as recently as 6th July this year, when the two played a friendly before the tournament against one another. Austria were the happier side back than, when they earned themselves a 4-2 victory. Nicole Billa and Zadrazil scored a brace each, while Veje and Stine Larsen netted the Danish goals.
It was a game were Denmark struggled and nothing worked for them, but for Austria there were plenty of positives, especially their pressure on every single one of Denmark’s chains were impressive. The Austrian coach has remarked that this game will be very different than the one from less than a month ago, but it must give them confidence.
Denmark will have to make do without two defenders. Janni Arnth suffered a stress fracture after the game against Norway, while her replacement for the next game, Mie Leth Jans, got an ankle injury in that game. Nils Nielsen has favoured Larsen, usually a forward, as their replacement, and she started against both Norway and Germany. She used to play as a defender, but was moved to the forward position a year and a half ago, so it is not a new position to her.
Austria is without Makas who got an ACL injury in the game against Spain. Makas will be a miss for Austria as she has been an integral part of left side thus far, both going forward and in defence. Makas has been subbed out in all of the previous four matches, and Nadine Prohaska has been her replacement every single time, so there is a good chance she’ll be her replacement in the starting line-up.
Players to watch
One of the key strengths that both teams share is that they are collectively good, and that they fully embrace the mantra that the sum is bigger than its parts. Despite this, there are players who stand out. Pernille Harder is one of the best and most exciting players in Europe, and she is Denmark’s key player. She sets up and creates chances, and additionally she is the player who, consistently, runs the most during the game.
For Austria, there are, like with Denmark, a number of players who could be singled out, but Sarah Puntigam has been sensational this tournament. She puts down the hard word in her defensive midfield position, protecting the defence while also ensuring that the players in front of her have the freedom to cause an attacking threat.
The game will be played at Rat Verlegh Stadion in Breda, and the winner will face either the Netherlands or England in the Final.