After Austria’s recent loss to Spain we briefly spoke to Sarah Zadrazil about an unforgettable summer and the drive to improve every day.
Not just the lowest ranked team in their Euro group – #24 in the world compared with France (#2), Switzerland (#17) and Iceland (#19) – but the third lowest ranked team at the entire tournament, only Russia (#25) and Portugal (#38) were bigger outsiders than Austria. Against a range of tough opponents very few gave the Austria team making their major tournament bow much hope of even picking up a point, let along progressing to the knock-outs.
Firing out of the blocks, Austria excelled over the group stage playing with an intelligent high-press that saw them slip past Switzerland, draw with France and hit Iceland for three of their best. Beginning to slow down with more and more attention heaped on them, Austria found their way past a Spain side many had tipped to be the dark horses of the tournament before falling down in the semi-finals, poor from 12-yards when they had been so impressive in the previous game.
With so many critics having written Austria off it wasn’t of the biggest surprise to hear that the players themselves hadn’t travelled to the tournament expecting greatness, rather just hoping to give a credible account of themselves,
“Our expectations were very low, we just wanted to go into the tournament and do the best we could and see what we could get out of it. No one expected us to finish first in the group or even make it past the group but we did.”
Fresh off of a bruising defeat to Spain in Palma, Zadrazil is even-handed about her comments, “that’s soccer” a theme echoed when she remembers the “flow” the team found themselves in over the summer, as well as the problems they had at the Son Moix, finishing, “It was an awesome summer and I’ll never forget it.”
A country where football pales in comparison to what happens over the north-westerly boarder in Germany, women’s football isn’t on the radar of too many in Austria. The ÖFB-Frauenliga not considered to be one of the better ones in women’s football despite the number of exports to the neighbouring German Frauen-Bundesliga.
Zadrazil admits that as she doesn’t play her domestic football at home, she’s not the best person to ask about any upswing in the league but doesn’t believe a huge amount has happened. Although the Potsdamer agrees that there’s been a little more interest in the national team since the Euros, their last two international home matches drawing crowds of 2,412 – a friendly against the Netherlands in October – and 3,100 for a World Cup qualifier against Israel in Maria Enzersdorf. Conversely their last match before the Euros, a friendly against the Denmark team that would go on to kick them out of the tournament, was attended by a scant 1,250 in Weiner Neustadt.
“I don’t think it’s improved a lot, there’s not a lot of people watching league games it’s just more the national team; we had a few more coming to our national team game last time but the league there’s still a lot of room to improve.”
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Despite picking up a knock against Switzerland that looked to have her ruled out for the tournament, Zadrazil made a speedy return, only missing out the France game and even scored the opening goal in Austria’s final group match. Though the long summer took its toll and the 24-year-old sat out the first three games of the Frauen-Bundesliga season whilst she rehabbed,
“I had rehab after the Euros, I just wanted to get to 100% so I had to sit out the first games but it was okay for me so I can be healthy again.”
With a number of ins and outs since the end of the 2016-17 season, Zadrazil – and everyone at Potsdam – faces a greater challenge to find themselves in the starting XI,
“It was hard to get back into the team after that because we have a good roster but the last few games I’ve started and I’ve played well so hopefully I can keep going.”
More than just playing well, Zadrazil has played a vital role when she’s been involved in recent games, the resilient attacker only improving this season,
“I definitely think the competition is the best thing because you want to get better individually, day by day so it’s a good thing. Both here in the national team and in Potsdam, we have very good players, you need to improve everyday to be in the starting line-up, that’s my goal every day and every week so hopefully I can keep that up.”