Denmark reach Euro 2017 final after Austria collapse in penalty shootout
Euro 2017, semi-final, Rat Verlegh Stadion - Denmark 0 Austria 0 a.e.t. (Denmark win 3-0 on penalties)
It was neither quick nor painless, but eventually Denmark reached the final of Euro 2017, beating Austria on penalties after a dour 0-0 draw.
The game started in reasonable fashion, with both sides looking to attack. Austria threatened on the break and whenever the ball was in the Denmark box, while the class of Denmark's strikers unsettled an organised, confident defence.
Carina Wenninger of Austria women, Pernille Harder of Denmark during the UEFA WEURO 2017 semi-final match between Denmark and Austria at the Rat Verlegh stadium on August 03, 2017 in Breda, The NetherlandsGetty Images
After just 12 minutes came the best chance of the game: Verena Aschauer hooked a shot goalwards which clouted the raised arm of Maja Kildemoes, and the referee had no choice but to award a penalty. So Sarah Puntigam stepped up and did Manuela Zinsberger with the eyes, only to lump a ludicrously poor effort over the bar.
Then, on 21 minutes, Sanne Troelgaard smacked a curler against the bar, and though the score was goalless at half-time, an exciting second half seemed inevitable. But neither side could find their attacking fluency; both defences found themselves in dangerous situations without conceding any clear chances.
And the same was so in extra-time; led by Pernille Harder, Denmark were the better side, but Austria maintained focus and discipline to hang on for penalties - for all the good it did them. Though they scored five out of five to beat Spain in the last eight, they missed their first three here while Denmark scored twice, so that when Simone Boye Sorensen expertly placed her kick - Denmark's fourth - into the top corner, the deal was done: Denmark were in their first major final. If they play as they did this afternoon, they are done for; if they play as they did against Germany, they will trouble whoever they happen to meet.
How do Denmark play better in the final? In Nadia Nadim and Pernille Harder, Denmark have two of the competition's most skilful, inventive attackers. But they need better service and support, which means they need their team-mates to play without fear and take risks to join them in the box. Otherwise, they are too heavily reliant on a moment of individual brilliance or a perfectly executed combination in order to score.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Pernille Harder (Denmark) Easily the best player on the pitch, Harder was lively, explosive and committed; if anyone was going to find a way to score, it was going to be her, al the more so in extra-time when she grew as others faded.
Austria: Zinsberger 7, Schiechtl 6, Wenninger 7, Kirchberger 6, Feiersinger 6, Schnaderbeck 5, Puntigam 5, Aschauer 5, Burger 7, Zadrazil 6, Billa 6. Subs: Prohaska 6, Pinther 5.
7’ - Lovely from Austria, Aschauer clipping the corner low to the near post in what looks like a version of Anderton/Sheringham, but Zadrazil runs over the ball and Feiersinger takes the opportunity to shoot, her effort kicked away by Sorensen. That was very nicely done.
12’ - PENALTY TO AUSTRIA! They win a corner down the left, and when Denmark don't clear properly, Aschauer, on the edge of the box and right of centre, hooks a shot goalwards but it cracks the raised hand of Kildemoes, a yard or so away!
13’ - PUNTIGAM SENDS PEDERSEN THE WRONG WAY BUT SMASHES HER SHOT OVER THE BAR! OH DEARIE, DEARIE ME!
21’ - Puntigam needs to get her had back on. She clears poorly and Troelsgaard picks up possession just outside the box, down its right. She moves inside and lets a curler go, which cracks the bar close to the near post.
54’ - Denmark win a corner down the left and Nadim meets it with an enormous leap, smacking a header towards goal; in front of it, Sorensen twists a further header, which Zinsberger does very well to shove behind.
61’ - Lovely from Nadim, pulling right, winning the ball and finding Thogersen who drills a low cross for Harder. But she needs to shift it to create a shooting angle, and though her drive is a strong one, the angle forces it high at the near post, where Zinsberger claws away once more.
107’ - Aaaargh! Sorensen floats a ball towards the far post looking for Nadim, only for Harder to charge into a challenge with Scheichtl and knock the ball across. Troelsgaard has a chance to shoot right away, but opts to shift wide, by which time the angle is against her and she shoots over the top.
114’ - Harder picks a clever ball through to Veje, alone in the middle of the box. In her defence, it's at an unhelpful height; in her prosecution, she ought not to have blazed her finish over the top. That was a chance; by the standards of this game, that was a chance.