The surprise package of the tournament, Austria are the only one of the six newcomers to the tournament to reach the quarter-finals.
To have done so by topping a group also containing France (1/9 to win the group before the tournament) is a wonderful achievement for the third-least-fancied team at the Euros.
Last time in this column, I asked whether winner Millie Bright would deservedly hold onto her place in the team. As it turns out, she was the only player not changed as Mark Sampson played his second XI against Portugal.
With the chances of elimination stupidly low and Portugal posing little enough challenge, Sampson took the opportunity to rest his strongest side ahead of Sunday’s quarter-final.
As noted after the first game, though, England have incredible strength in depth. To be able to make ten changes and still have the likes of Fara Williams, Izzy Christiansen, Karen Carney, Alex Scott, and goalscorers Toni Duggan and Nikita Parris in the side is an absolute luxury that no other team at these Euros can match.
The Lionesses will be disappointed to have conceded so cheaply, shutting off in anticipation of a referee’s whistle that never came and then allowing Diana Silva two opportunities to cross for Carolina Mendes; but with three wins out of three and a well-rested side, they be confident of progressing to the semi-finals, regardless of Sunday’s opposition.
The magical Dutch
The only team besides England to have maintained their 100% record, the Netherlands have led something of a charmed life in terms of penalty decisions and opposition finishing, but such are the benefits of being hosts.
De Oranje Leeuwinnen clearly have enormous talent in attack, but have at times appeared to be running on sheer enthusiasm, sparkly orange magic dust practically pouring out of their heels as they are propelled endlessly towards goal.
It has been wonderful to watch; I just wonder if that will be enough to get them past Sweden. Mind you…
A pyrrhic victory, because they’re still out at the group stage and bottom of their group. They sneak in as winners here for scoring three times against Sweden, who had been the most formidable defensive side in the competition up till that point.
Italy’s early departure is the ultimate illustration of the fine lines that define football: desperately unfortunate victims of a disallowed goal, a wonderful and the crossbar against Russia, and eliminated with a game still remaining thanks to a German penalty in their second game. One point from either of those games would have seen them through as group runners-up.
I’m sure they’ll feel a lot better when they learn they’ve been handed the moral victory and a place in this winners section on the sympathy vote.
Didn’t need to break a sweat to beat Russia in a straight elimination shoot-out and top the group.
More importantly, their half of the bracket contains Denmark, Austria, and Spain; the other side features the next four pre-tournament favourites in France, England, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Germany still haven’t really turned up in full force yet, but the draw is in their favour.
Lucky. Very, very lucky. Camille Abily’s free-kick 14 minutes from time was all that prevented 10-woman France from group stage elimination.
After France confirmed their position as group runners-up on Wednesday, the reaction in the English press was one of resignation and disappointment: “balls, we have to play France”. But after France’s performances so far, the disappointment must surely count quadruple for Les Bleues: “Merde, maintenant faut affronter l’Angleterre!”
Not only do they now go head-to-head with the Euros’ most impressive team – all of whom have had a good rest – but they must perform without two of their first-choice back four, with right-back Eve Perisset and captain Wendie Renard both suspended.
I still can’t work out whether their talent is just waiting to burst forth, or whether their ability has been rather trumped-up based on French sides’ domination in the Champions League in recent years. I guess we won’t have to wait long to find out. Their game against England kicks off at 7:45pm UK time on Sunday.
If I sound personally offended by Russia, it’s only because I chose to watch their humdrum 2-0 defeat to Germany rather than Sweden 2 Italy 3.
The only team who played like they were already eliminated, even though winning their game would have seen them through at their opponents’ expense.
I know they were playing Germany, but giving away two such stupid, obvious and needless penalties, and managing just three shots – none of them on target – is just woeful.
Their defeat to Scotland didn’t matter in the end, but it could have done if England hadn’t responded to Portugal’s equaliser. After looking impressive enough in their opening game to earn the obligatory ‘dark horse’ tag, Spain have faded. They have – on paper – the easiest quarter-final, against Austria, but they can’t afford to be so poor again.