Analysis-Soccer-Sabitzer howitzer seals breathtaking Austria triumph over Dutch


Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group D - Netherlands v Austria - Berlin Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany - June 25, 2024 Netherlands' Memphis Depay scores their second goal REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

BERLIN (Reuters) - Hoary old cliche it may be but in the final analysis the simple truth is that the irrepressible, irresistible Austrians wanted it more than the Dutch in their final Euro 2024 Group D clash.

Maybe the fact the Netherlands were already guaranteed a last-16 place spiked their guns, or perhaps there was nothing they could do to repel the industry and energy of the Austrians.

Either way, the men from the mountains towered over their opponents from the low countries by the end of a sizzling 3-2 victory at Berlin’s Olympiastadion.

"When you win like that, win the group, score the winning goal, it doesn't get any better than that," said Austria's man-of-the match Marcel Sabitzer. "Now we need to calm down, clear our heads and then keep attacking."

The die had seemed cast from the kick off.

Well set up, disciplined, and with a measured plan to execute, the Austrians instantly set about their task with furious energy as soon as the whistle blew.

While the Netherlands were a team of step overs, fancy flicks, jinks and arms thrown up in frustration, the men in white buckled down to the job in hand - namely clearing their lines, maintaining their shape and employing a great high press and strong, physical tactics to snuff out Dutch inspiration whenever it threatened to momentarily catch light.

Austria's approach was rewarded almost before either bench had a chance to get comfortable, pressing Dutch midfielder Donyell Malen to scythe the ball past his own goalkeeper after only five minutes.

If red-faced Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was sanguine in appearance, his demeanour suggested he was far less so in outlook, and he appeared to seethe on the touchline.

The last time the Oranje played at a Euros in this neck of the woods, they emerged champions in West Germany. Koeman was among the heroes who won the final 36 years ago to the day.

How, on a balmy evening in Berlin, he must have yearned for the majesty of a Ruud Gullit or menace of a Marco van Basten.

Mercurial to the point of confusing themselves at times, the Dutch lacked purpose, with their lead striker Memphis Depay drifting in and out of the game in the early stages, at times looking more like an NBA player in his white headband than a striker closing in on the Dutch all-time scoring record.

BETTER SIDE

The Austrians looked, and were, the better side. Pressing and never allowing the Dutch to settle on the ball, they went in at the break comfortably in the ascendancy.

But blink and it was gone.

Whatever words of wisdom Koeman conjured from his increasing incandescence at halftime clearly worked and within minutes of the kick off a momentary lapse saw the Austrians dispossessed in their own half.

Given a glimpse of the hare, the Dutch were off on the breakaway and Cody Gakpo made no mistake, curling the ball home, levelling the scores and reigniting an orange wall of fans who had been muted for the first 45 minutes.

But even then the goal seemed little more than a solitary finger stuck in a dike the Austrians were determined to breach.

When a powerful Romano Schmid header flew past Netherlands goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen it sparked a deafening roar from the red end as the sun started to dip below the stadium roof.

An all-too brief glimpse of Depay magic dragged the Dutch level again in the 75th minute with a goal that was viewed from every conceivable angle by VAR before being awarded and a scoreline which flattered them.

Not for long, though, as Austria’s army of fans were sent into delirium when a Sabitzer howitzer flew into the roof of the net with 10 minutes remaining to seal a famous victory and leave Austria top of Group D.

France finished second after a 1-1 draw with Poland and the Netherlands qualified for the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed finishers.

While the Austrians were left to contemplate a job superbly executed, the Dutch have some thinking to do.

“We are all responsible for this," Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dyke said. "If we want to achieve anything in this tournament, something has to change."

(Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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