Austria’s national women’s soccer team has almost cleared the first hurdle on the long road to taking part in a soccer World Cup for the first time.
After the 3-1 home win against Northern Ireland on Friday evening in the seventh group D game of the qualification, the ÖFB selection can no longer be denied the second place, which is sufficient for the multi-stage playoff. The relief in the warehouse of team boss Irene Fuhrmann and Co. was correspondingly great.
“It really took a load off our hearts, we’re overjoyed that we were able to walk away as winners,” says Fuhrmann.
Several corona cases in the run-up to the team meeting had negatively affected the preparation. The victory is all the higher, especially since supporters like Nicole Billa, Carina Wenninger or Sarah Zadrazil only had a few training sessions in their legs before Friday.
“We made the best of it, it’s another development step that we were able to win a game like that.”
Goalkeeper Zinsberger not having the best day
Fuhrmann experienced an “emotional roller coaster ride” on the line, as she emphasizes afterwards. After a first half with a lot of game control but few chances, efficiency was the key after the break, which became clear with a triple hit by Wenninger (48th), Billa (55th) and Barbara Dunst (57th).
In between, it could have been 1-1 due to uncertainties on the part of Manuela Zinsberger. “She didn’t have the best day, but you have to give her that,” says Fuhrmann.
The calm in the team was missing even after the clear lead, the consolation goal by Joely Andrews (85th) was the logical consequence.
“The second half didn’t go the way we had imagined in terms of gameplay, but that’s how football is sometimes. In the end, it’s much more important to us that we got the three points and not like it was in Northern Ireland, where we were very good were in the game, but were then able to take a draw with them,” the 41-year-old sums up.
The players were also self-critical. “I don’t think that was the kind of football we wanted to play. The second half was really tough,” said Wenninger. Physically, she felt “quite good” again.
Billa didn’t last the full distance. “It was a first indicator of how things are going. I noticed after the 50th minute that it was going to be tight and then said that it was enough,” says the Hoffenheim striker.
“Actually, nothing should happen anymore”
The ÖFB squad is three points ahead of the third-placed Northern Ireland. At least as important as the lead is the fact that after the 2-2 draw in Belfast, a direct comparison would speak for Austria in the event of a tie.
Zadrazil and Co. can therefore afford to score three points fewer than the Northern Irish, who are still against, in the duels with the pointless bottom team Latvia (Tuesday), the flawless leader England (September 3rd) and North Macedonia (September 6th). England and Luxembourg as well as Latvia.
“Yes, theoretically the playoff place is secured, but we still have three games left,” Fuhrmann does not want to accept premature congratulations. The players are also aware that the direction is right.
“Actually, nothing should happen anymore, we’ve matured and are experienced,” says Billa optimistically. The 26-year-old Tyrolean scored for the 42nd time in team dress and for the 10th time in this qualification. Only four players were more accurate than the attacker, who is fighting for the top scorer again in the German Bundesliga.
“Honestly, I have no idea what it’s like there, I’m not interested in it at all. It’s all about having fun with the team on the pitch,” says Billa.
Reunion with England and Northern Ireland at the European Championship
She also wants to have fun with her colleagues at the European Championships in England in July. And success at that. With England and Northern Ireland, among others, well-known opponents are waiting there again. “The win is of course positive, but I don’t think the situation and the game in England will be comparable,” says Fuhrmann.
According to Wenninger, there’s definitely something to take away: “I think we’re the tactically more flexible team and if we analyze it, we’ll find even better solutions.”
Before the tournament, Latvia is still a World Cup qualification hurdle, anything but a clear victory would be a bitter disappointment on Tuesday.