The way Italy have been playing at Euro 2020 has been frightening at times. A nation famed for their defensive prowess, Italy’s balance between old fashioned defensive resolve and attacking verve has been the most impressive thing about the way they’ve played, and it’s no surprise that many are touting them as the team to beat at this year’s European Championships.
Austria will be hoping to do just that. Having beaten Ukraine to finish second behind the Netherlands in Group C, the Austrians’ prize is a trip to Wembley Stadium in London to take on the Italians in the last 16. It’s just about the most difficult opponents anyone could face in the second round, with the possible exception of world champions France, but Austria will be confident having secured the mammoth achievement of making it to the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in the nation’s history.
They have played extremely well in patches. Despite struggling at times in their opening game against North Macedonia in Bucharest, Austria eventually made their quality count and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. Defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam was not much of a surprise, but if there were any disappointments it was that Austria did not assert themselves fully against a Dutch team who had shown vulnerability against Ukraine in their previous match.
However, Austria saved their best display for the final match, and in beating Ukraine 1-0, they kept quiet a team who had looked dangerous in their previous two games. Many had fancied Ukraine to get the job done against Austria, but Franco Foda’s side battled hard and, in the end, Christoph Baumgartner’s goal was enough to seal Austria’s passage to the knockout stage and leave Ukraine praying that their three points are enough to get through as one of the top third-placed sides.
Against Italy, Austria will face a much different test, and you would expect the Azzurri to pose a much greater danger to the Austrian defence than Ukraine did in Bucharest. The Italians are a team who dominate possession, and Austria’s resolve and shape will face a stern challenge, but if they can hang in for the first part of the match and keep things tight, Italy may well get frustrated.
Austria are firmly up against it according to the Italy v Austria betting, but anything can happen in the thrilling world of international knockout football. We’ve seen countless examples in the past of underdogs who have upset the apple cart on the international stage. Indeed, at the last Euros, we saw Iceland beat England and Wales beat Belgium in the knockout stage, and Austria will be hoping that they can fulfil the role of this year’s surprise package.
Overall, Austria have nothing to lose ahead of their last-16 encounter. All the pressure is on Italy, and it will be interesting to see how Roberto Mancini’s side fare in the knockout stage. Having gone under the radar somewhat in the build-up to the tournament, Italy are now firmly considered as one of the contenders to lift the trophy on July 11th, and that brings its own set of pressures. If Austria can frustrate them and make things difficult, anything could happen!