Sunday June 13th 2021
Debutant not strong enough
Austria celebrates a European premiere at the beginning
With the first game at this European football championship, Austria also achieved its first ever victory at a European Championship. Newcomer North Macedonia recently annoyed the DFB team, but Franco Foda’s team is now too strong, especially in the second half.
A joker duo gave Austria its first victory in a European football championship. Michael Gregoritsch (78th minute) and Marko Arnautovic (89th) scored 3: 1 (1: 1) against the long-time equal tournament newcomer North Macedonia in the closing stages on Sunday in Bucharest. Stefan Lainer (18th) had taken the ÖFB selection of German national coach Franco Foda in front of around 13,000 spectators, old star Goran Pandev (28th) equalized with the help of the weak defense around future Real star David Alaba. Then came the substitutes Gegoritsch and Arnautovic.
“It’s fantastic. It means everything to me,” said Gregoritsch to ORF and burst into tears. “It’s my brother’s birthday, I’ve had a difficult year. It was for those who believed in me! It’s wonderful, it was world class.”
In 2008 and 2016, the Austrians left without a win after the group stage. The North Macedonians, who sensationally defeated Germany in the World Cup qualification at the end of March, narrowly missed their first successful European Championship. North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski, who would have liked to “reward the fans with a better result” at the start, said the remaining games of the preliminary round could be tackled “with confidence”. In Group C, Ukraine and co-favorites Netherlands are still waiting for both teams.
Austria initially surprised
Supported by their fans, who made up the majority of the visitors in the Arena Nationala and loudly cheered every successful action by their heroes in the initial phase, the North Macedonians started quite boldly. The Austrians, from whose starting line-up nine professionals played in the German Bundesliga last season, looked surprised and initially tried to control. Captain Alaba, who moves from Bayern Munich to Spain after the European Championship, acted as a ball distributor and middle man in the defense chain.
But the Austrians took their first chance very cold. After a wonderful cross from Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer from the left half-field, Lainer hit the second post with a direct pick to give a surprising lead. When celebrating the goal, the full-back, like Gregoritsch later, held up a shirt that read “Eriksen stay strong” – an encouraging message to Christian Eriksen, who had collapsed in the game against Finland (0-1) the day before and had to be revived. Four minutes later, Stuttgart striker Sasa Kalajdzic almost went for it, but failed from close range to goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Pandev – the national hero
The North Macedonians took a few minutes to regroup – and were then brought back into the game by the Austrians. After his front men shot each other, keeper Daniel Bachmann stormed out of his box, but could not secure the ball. Captain and national hero Pandev, who shot the North Macedonians in the qualifying playoff against Georgia (1-0) in November to the tournament, profited and won the game to make it 1-1. Then he stretched his forefinger towards the sky.
At the beginning of the second half, the Austrians, who had to replace Aleksandar Dragovic from Leverkusen after an aerial duel with Aleksandar Trajkosvki at break, made many mistakes in the build-up of the game. The experienced and ball-safe Alaba stayed behind for the time being. At first there were no further opportunities – then North Macedonia suddenly had the big one. Boban Nikolov failed from an acute angle on this time well-reacting ÖFB keeper Bachmann, Pandev put the margin over the gate (63.). Two minutes later, Joker forgave Gregoritsch on the other side.
The inclusion of the Augsburg player and the ex-Bundesliga professional Arnautovic did Austria’s attacking game well – and ultimately paid off. After a cross from the now more offensive Alaba from the left, Gregoritsch scored 2-1 for the Foda-Elf from a few meters, later Arnautovic increased it to 3-1.