Spain quick off of the mark
Left frustrated by Austria over two long hours in Tilburg that saw their early exit from Euro 2017, Spain wasted no time in writing the wrongs of the summer, Alexia Putellas’ third minute strike enough to break the short-lived parity. With the hosts cutting forward the visiting defence looked slack it wasn’t long before Putellas and Jenni Hermoso had wrapped up a neat one-two and the Barca woman had let one rip across Manuela Zinsberger’s goal. Unable to cover her far top corner the Munich shot-stopper stuck a hopeful hand out, the ball cresting over her outstretched glove and against the underside of the bar at its apex with the upright, violently ricocheting into the back of the surprised net.
Austria looked for a fast reply but found themselves disjointed and panicked, no player in white wanting to hold ono the ball rather just to get rid of it in the general direction of a teammate. Whether it be the early goal, the home crowd on their side of the very fact that they were passing the ball around well, the side were far smoother in their movements, free to slip around the scattered defence.
It wasn’t until the thirteenth minute that Austria had the ball near the home six-yard box – and after two Olga García efforts – Nicole Billa’s ball sent across bounced off of a Spanish boot before Laura Feiersinger volleyed high and wide of Lola Gallardo’s goal. Whilst there had been a push and pull in July, attack cancelled out by defence, the traffic was all one-way in Palma, the second goal brought about by another cutting move. Doing what most teenagers can only dream of, nineteen-year-old Patricia Guijarro slotted home Amanda Sampedro’s smart cut-back in to double the lead, the fans full of cheer for the hometown girl.
Uno, dos… tres
With Austria running into cul-de-sacs at every attack, Spain continued to carve and create, the spaces opening up for those in red, Hermoso’s thunderous effort clipped the bar before bouncing into Zinsberger’s gloves, the third goal already begging.
Like the surf hitting smooth golden sand, the Spanish attack came in relentless waves, rising up and crashing against the visiting defence time and again, the red sea rolled forwards. Out of breath just treading water, Austria laboured from the get-go, every time they seemed to settle, the hosts punched fresh holes in the defence before smothering any potential attack from the visitors.
The game put beyond reasonable doubt [for any team except Schalke] when Irene Parades clipped a deft header over Zinsberger three minutes before the break, the visiting defence lax at a petulant free kick.
Showing more industry in the second half, Austria began to ask questions of the home defence, Gallardo equal to their early efforts though they soldiered on, a low level of competence returning to their game.
The resurgence didn’t last long however and soon enough La Roja were back putting on a show for the home crowd in Mallorca, the pressure fast mounting on Zinsberger’s goal again. Putellas’ lashed a shot at goal that Zinsberger managed to get a fingertip to to turn against the woodwork, though with the defence half a step behind, Virginia Torrecilla was free to send the ball into the open goal, the ‘keeper clawing the air in the wake.
The game slowed after the hour, every player on the pitch part-way through their league season and having no need to risk injury or run themselves into the ground, the result a foregone conclusion. Slower than in the first half, Spain still had the better of it, going forward with ease and doing their relaxed best to find a fifth, the ball slipping wide of Zinsberger’s near post more than once.
The seconds ticked away and the two teams shuffled and refreshed, benches called upon as the match wore down to nothing, no conciliation goal for the visitors, no fifth for the rampant hosts.
The win doesn’t just give Spain the upper hand in the qualification group and suggests – failing a collapse next year – that they’ve already got one foot in France, but relaxed the nerves. A stoppage time winner needed last time out against Serbia, comfortable from the get-go against a team that caused them so many problems and heartbreak last time they met, the match could well be the catalyst to galvanise La Roja.
For Austria, there was little to write home about, bar a slightly more cohesive brief period at the start of the second half, their usually resilient defence crippled and the high-press from the summer faded like a weak tan. Unable to get going at either end of the pitch, the Austrians struggled from start to finish, their collapse likely to prove fatal to their automatic qualification hopes for the next World Cup.