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Day 11: Austria deservedly dump out Norway
Austria and Norway have taken two different approaches to international football. One is working out better than the other
We have had our first real upset of Euro 2022 as Austria knocked Norway out at the group stage to set up a quarter-final match against Germany. The two teams are in stark contrast to each other. Austria are a well-organised unit, managed by a coach who has been developed through roles at the Austrian federation over the past decade. Norway meanwhile are a team of star names - five of their squad play for teams who have reached the Champions League final within the past two seasons - managed by a coach who has had impressive club success but shows limited international aptitude.
Neither one or the other of these setups are intrinsically good. Yes, there are some good examples of coaches who have spent long periods of time within their federation before succeeding within international football - Sarina Wiegman and Bev Priestman are two who spring to mind. But equally there are examples where national teams have remained overly loyal to a coach because they are embedded in their system, at great cost to their overall success. The potential upset tonight if Spain go out, headed up by long-term manager Jorge Vilda, might be the one worth highlighting here.
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The clash between the attributes required to be a successful club manager and the ones for competent international management is a wide-ranging debate. Obviously at international level, if you don’t have particularly good players in a certain position, you cannot just go out and sign some different ones. You have to develop a system that supports your weaker areas of the pitch and highlights your stronger ones. Austria and Norway are at opposite ends of the spectrum on this one.
Austria have focused on being defensively strong, only pressing where they need to and disrupting opposition build-up play. Their Passes Per Defensive Action of 13.9 is one of the lowest pressing in the tournament but they have forced more high turnovers than any team other than Sweden. They have focused on efficiently winning the ball back in dangerous areas, with eight of their shots coming from high turnovers. This makes sense given one of their best players, Sarah Zadrazil, shines when she is disrupting the opposition and winning back the ball in midfield. They have also been able to rely on having one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament in Manuela Zinsberger, who has prevented 2.1 goals in the group stage.
Contrast this with Norway who have been notable for their strange mix of players being out of their best positions. Caroline Graham Hansen has been ineffective as a 10; her highlights reel from the tournament will be the nutmegs she performed against Northern Ireland when she had drifted out to the right wing. Ada Hegerberg has mustered only two shots on target, with Hansen and Hegerberg combining for a measly expected goals total of 1.24 from three games. Julie Blakstad was consistently left exposed at left back whilst Maria Thorisdottir was unceremoniously dropped against Austria following her performance against England.
It is as if Norway just expects their stars to turn up and go, rather than designing a system that allows them to work together and become more than the sum of their parts. Meanwhile, Austria have created a team that takes the talents of their players to the next level.
Austria have now reached the knock-out stages of the Euros for the second time in a row, having only ever qualified for the competition twice. Norway meanwhile exit at the group stage again. At least they can say they scored in this one.
P.S. Was great to see some friends out and about at Spain training yesterday