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Day 17: The German boa constrictor
The boa constrictor snake is famous for the way it kills its prey. On finding its dinner, it wraps itself around it, squeezing tightly until it dies, before consuming it whole. Watching Germany play football at Euro 2022 brings this predator to mind. Austria became their latest victims last night, losing 2-0 to exit at the quarter-final stage.
It would be easy to feel frustrated for Austria because this loss felt like it was of their own making. Their success in this tournament has come from being well-organised, making few errors, and leaving little opportunity for teams to get at them. In their opener, they frustrated England who struggled to find ways through on goal.
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Irene Fuhrmann’s team have been very loyal to playing it out from the back. Back in June, in a barely conceivable time before the Euros had begun - Austria played Denmark in a warm-up game. They looked nervous in possession and faced some pretty hairy moments as Denmark closed them down, eventually losing 2-1. But it was the first game they had played and their squad was pretty mixed. It was a slight issue going into the tournament that the way they build-up could be exploited, but also plenty of reason not to be overly concerned.
Early evidence was that it was fine, as they pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament to make it out of the group stage. But coming up against Germany proved to be a step too far as Austria faced a team who smell nervousness in defences like a shark noticing blood in the water.
In Brentford, those nerves were radiating off Manuela Zinsberger with both goals coming from her mistakes, forced by the relentless enthusiasm of Alexandra Popp. Perhaps as a zookeeper, Popp has learned a thing or two from the reptile room. For the first, Zinsberger took far too long to make a decision, forcing her to play a hopeful pass out wide which was intercepted by Felicitas Rauch. With Austria out of shape, Klara Bühl was able to drive into the area and pull the back for the onrushing Lina Magull, who was helped out by a very smart leave from Popp.
The second was one of those moments in football where you just want to crawl into a hole even though you have not made the error yourself. Zinsberger was actually looking to play it long this time, with just minutes remaining for Austria to get an equaliser, but seemed to have tunnel vision and somehow not notice the onrushing Popp. She smashed the goal kick against Popp’s body and it rebounded into the net.
Whilst it would be easy to point the finger at Austria, this is what the Germans have been doing all tournament. Their openers against Denmark and Spain came in similar situations. At this point, these goals are not coincidences. It is the tight grip from the German front line which is causing goalkeepers and defenders to crumble. Germany have had more high turnovers than any other side - 68 - and twelve of them have been shot-ending, which is also the highest.
Their aggressiveness in the press is forcing oppositions to make errors and seeing them create high-value opportunities for themselves. Whether they end up playing France or the Netherlands in the semi-final, both sides will need to be very quick-witted to avoid being suffocated by the German boa constrictor.