If not for Germany’s midfielders, Austria would have dominated the entirety of their Euro 2022 quarterfinal. During the opening stages, it was the lower ranked side who looked the hungrier, more aggressive team keen to cause a shock at the Brentford Community Stadium.
But after Lina Magull slotted the ball past Austrian goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger, Germany regained control of the game. A late goal from captain Alexandra Popp, her fourth of the tournament, sealed the 2-0 victory, and a heavyweight semi-final clash against France.
This wasn’t Germany’s best performance, nor was it the most comfortable of wins. But they took their chances and did just enough on the defensive end to keep out their opponents. In doing so, they earned another clean sheet and now being the only team yet to have conceded in the competition.
“I felt we were deserved winners,” head coach Martine Voss-Tecklenburg said afterwards. “They [Austria] played good football, had a clear plan and a great mentality. In the beginning we weren’t courageous enough, but we became a bit calmer.”
How did Die Nationalelf win back composure after an intensive opening stage to the match? A key reason that was particularly evident after the first goal, was winning back control of the midfield battle.
From kick-off, Austria succeeded in pinning back the Germans into their own half. The game was dictated on their terms, with their organised defensive structures and unyielding pressing a clear feature. It meant they were able to force consecutive turnovers, sloppy fouls and rushed clearances from the Germans, who seemed a bit rattled by their opponents’ intensity.
It was therefore fortunate that Zinsberger, under pressure from Popp, coughed up possession back to Klara Bühl, who got to the byline and cut back the ball perfectly for the onrushing Magull. The 27-year-old didn’t hesitate in calmly dispatching her low shot into the net.
Her energy and passing skills continued to be on show even after the goal, providing a dynamic presence to link defence and attack. Even as Austria continued to create chances, the Bayern Munich midfielder tirelessly continued to put pressure and hurry the opposition into mistakes, in turn creating more openings for her teammates in transition.
Even so, teams that go far in tournaments often benefit from good fortune, and Austria hitting the woodwork three times certainly illustrated how much of a close fight they gave Die Nationalelf. This didn’t seem to alarm Voss-Tecklenburg, who decided to adjust her midfield. On came Linda Dallmann and Lena Lattwein, in place of Magull and Sara Däbritz, who had a quieter game by her standards.
And the substitutes played their part superbly, with fresh energy to pressure a tiring Austrian midfield into turning over possession and making key interceptions. Their running and hunger to get forward to create overloads in attack was crucial to pushing back their opponents into their own half.
This was also when Lena Oberdorf, the young holding midfielder who has been excellent throughout the tournament, elevated her performance. As was the case against Denmark and Spain, her defensive instincts were fantastic, snuffing out the danger on numerous occasions. She’s unafraid to make a cynical challenge when it’s needed to prevent a counter-attack and can be trusted in possession to help spring an offensive move going forward. Therefore, it was unsurprising that she was a key presence in the game late on, making a decisive impact to get her team over the line.
At this point, a second goal for Germany felt more inevitable, with their midfield firmly on top. Sure enough, it did come, albeit from another mistake from Zinsberger and a determined press from Popp. An uneven performance overall, but they did enough to win – which is all that matters in knockout football.
Now, a semi-final awaits, against a France side who battled hard to beat the Netherlands and have shown off their attacking prowess in this tournament. Given they like to play with pace and with an attacking style, it’s clear the German midfield have a formidable task ahead, with the likes of Grace Geyoro able to always burst forward.
But having shown their ability to dig deep and control the game late on, the likes of Oberdorf and Magull have shown they can match the best in the tournament. With a balance in defensive and attacking abilities, their success tonight will have a big part in determining whether Germany go forward to take on England at Wembley on Sunday.