On a warm afternoon in Deventer with the majority of the focus in Group C on France vs Iceland readying to take place later in the evening, Austria and Switzerland looked to steal the headlines with a breathless nintety minutes, Nina Burger's first-half strike enough for Austria to claim first blood in Group C of Euro 2017.
Austria hit the ground running
Bucking assumptions, Austria started on the offensive, immediately pressing Switzerland into the defensive third, working their opposition and earning set-pieces to test out Gaëlle Thalmann in the Swiss goal. A sloppy foul on Laura Feiersinger as she began to slip and scythe through midfield brought about a dummied free kick, Thalmann behind the effort. Whilst Austria were seeing more of the ball and doing plenty with it, Switzerland remained inherently dangerous on the counter, Ramona Bachmann more than happy to dash down the flanks with the ball on her toe, fast feet unlocking the defence.
An injury to Lisa Makas saw Austria reduced to ten whilst she was patched up, Switzerland unable to make their numerical advantage count before she returned to the pitch and Austria cut forward again. White began to cover red in the box, Feiersinger and Sarah Zadrazil linked to feed Nina Burger the captain calm to blast the ball into the bottom corner. The out-numbered Austria crowd filling De Adelaarshorst with appreciation of her countrywomen and their first ever goal scored at a European Championship.
The goal relit the fire under Switzerland, La Nati seeing a touch more of the ball, a dangerous corner acrobatically kicked into the turf by Fabienne Humm an easy claim for Manuela Zinsberger. But still Austria looked dangerous, still carrying the spark from their pre-tournament trouncing of Denmark, the Swiss defence ripped to shreds, experienced players becoming slack under the press.
Despite the physical nature of the game, German referee, Bibiana Steinhaus was happy to let most things go, the majority of the 22 on the pitch, regulars in the Frauen-Bundesliga, more than used to a physical battle. The game, however, suffered a number of stoppages, players going down heavy or bleeding - play stopped and the game fractured, Austria the team that looked more dangerous still.
Nicole Billa’s effort dribbled just wide before Thalmann made an impressive save to deny Burger a second, the flag lofted for offside anyway. The FBL contingent in the Austria squad becoming too much for La Nati to deal with, Verena Aschauer was having fun against Humm as Feiersinger linked with Burger and Zadrazil, Billa forever lurking dangerously. Still trying to find a solid footing in the game, Switzerland struggled for link-up play, relying more on individual brilliance from Bachmann.
Looking for a swift response, the Swiss started the second-half with more impetus, a greater desire to drive forward as a unit apparent, the Austrian blackline under early pressure before Burger took off running against her marker. The Sand woman earning a corner for her troubles, the ball delivered short as the pressure began to mount on Thalmann’s goal once more.
A corner at the opposite end saw the best chance for the Swiss, their height finally paying dividends, Sarah Puntigam the one to deny them on the line. A loose professional foul by Virginia Kirchberger gave Ana-Maria Crnogorčević a golden chance with a deadball just outside the box. Opting to be cute the Frankfurter struck the ball low into the toes of the wall, Austria able to bring it away although beginning to struggle to get the ball into the attacking third. Their luck changing when Rahel Kiwic cynically pulled Burger to the ground two yards outside the box, a clear red card for the Potsdamer. A man light and facing a free kick from dangerous range, Thalmann came up trumps with a superb parry to deny Puntigam’s strike, the follow up send wide as Switzerland desperately looked to regroup.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg fast ran out of substitutions as she looked not just to sure up her backline that had struggled so visibly during the first hour but the fragmented attack that was still trying to come together.
An improvised pick out from Venessa Bernauer drew the first real save from Zinsberger, the ball curling and dipping towards the top corner only to be acrobatically touched behind by the Austrian number one. The chance, however fine was a rarity for the Swiss since losing a player, the energy exerted by Austria taking its’ toll on the side but with an extra player, they had seen more of the ball than looked likely early after the break. Midfield the new battlefield in Deventer.
A shot on the turn from Bachmann left the Swiss fans holding their breath as it cannoned off a white shirt, the ball angling through the sky before dropping behind the goal, Austria looking ragged after a stoppage in play for treatment to Thalmann. The balance shifted yet again as another played went down after a heavy challenge and required treatment off of the pitch, numbers squared with Zadrazil having her leg tapped, Switzerland charging forward, five minutes left on the clock. Time fasting running out of La Nati, Bachmann tried her luck from distance again, her arced shot clear over Zinsberger’s bar.
Still chasing their second, Burger tried to seal the win with a chip from just outside the area, the ball dropping but all too late, the game still finely poised with a scant two minutes of regular time left. As the fourth official signalled for four minutes of stoppage time, the Swiss were gifted a lifeline, another poor foul bringing about another free kick just outside of the area, the ball chipped into a sea of bodies, a melee in the box as Austria cleared. The remaining seconds of stoppage time the most frantic of the match, Austria desperate to keep the ball out of their half and Switzerland ravenous. Yet another free kick just outside the box saw another free kick for Switzerland, Thalmann jogging up for it with a scarce 20 seconds left. The ball again chipped in by Martina Moser bur easily grabbed by Zinsberger.
The match breathless to the last but the spoils were stolen away by Austria on their major tournament debut.