Austria – Spain
Spain: 65% wpafw
That is hopefully the most interesting to watch. Not only for Emma “I am surprised to see Austria pressing” Hayes, the Chelsea manager 😉 . Because it is crowning the development Champions of Europe. It is champions in team organisation versus champions in individual gains.
Austria have developed at least a consistent team structure where everybody knows her place and knows what she has to do and her neighbors are doing. That seems to give them a huge advantage so that they can cancel out disadvantages in individual class compared to the top teams they play. Question is why most of the others look so poor in team-structure in comparison. Simply compare the changes for example Austria have made over the EC qualification matches to those of other teams.
And thus Austria have been the brave surprise package who are showing what might be gained by a decent team organisation. Deservedly they won their group in front of France and Switzerland and Iceland with a brave bunch of Bundesliga players who are not over average there but have been ready to give 110% in every duel and run themselves into the ground.
But here now comes Spain. And that is a different story. And another interesting one it might be as well. They are the individual development Champions. And they are showing an interesting mixture of good and poor team organisation. The good side of course how good the whole squad is on average technically and every player is showing and wanting to have the ball and play football every moment. Thus they have a very fluent style and rarely give the ball away poorly because of poor touches. Quite the opposite. They are probably the best team in keeping possession even under pressure and in difficult situations because the players on average are technically so good.
How they did develop so well from an athletic point of view? Once the players seemed technically on level when it came to reach the latter stages of the Champions League for example. But even little more than 12 months ago FC Barcelona was widely unable to play into the opposite half because PSG whom they played were just athletically so much better. How they managed to now dominate even the English top players in English wheather and pitch conditions is another big question.
The bad side however that they seem to prefer to play their fluent game around the box and avoid playing there because they are afraid to have to give the ball away then. They even seem to like to pitch players as forwards who are very much preferring to keep the ball in safe distance from the ugly bunch of opponents in their center back and rather circulate it in less crowded parts of the field waiting for the opponents to be friendly enough to open up some gaps to play through.
It will be the question whether Austria can get the center of their defense tight enough so Spain are unable to play their way through to the goal. Irene Paredes is the threat when it comes to set pieces and Vicky Losada the one who has the best view for gaps in the defense to use to break through. Keeping these out will be a key. Against a lame Swiss team they could afford their spells of high pressing without being caught and gain advantage. Against France they did it reasonably more cautious and it worked out well enough too what was one step more difficult though also France did play anything but well to get the ball forward.
Austria might have one very decisive disadvantage that makes them outsiders. Spain could come back from a deficit. But once Austria go down a goal and have to attack in numbers to play forward to create chances it looks rather difficult for them to do so with success. They haven’t got the forwards (except Feiersinger?) to take on strong opponents in 1-vs-1 situations and pass them.
But you also dont know with Spain. Like most of the top teams also massively impeded by the use of subpar team tactics. While against England you could say at least the reason they didnt get into the opposite box was the defense was very strong so they couldnt get there. But they had the following match against Scotland to show any reaction to tackle that problem – unfortunately they did quite the opposite and were set up even worse. Remarkable.
If Spain can avoid impeding the own players too much they would be ways better.
England – France
Both of our pre-tournament favorites will now meet already in the quarters thanks to Austria pushing France to second place in their group. A fact alone that would be sufficient to make France already no longer favorites. But not only France have again been worse than expected and you really would so much like to know how the group can accept that. Year after year and event after event have gone by and they never could erase their problems. Going out in Sweden at the EC 2013 in a penalty shoot out against Denmark was a little bit unlucky. Going out in Canada WC 2015 in a penalty shoot out was a little bit unlucky. The loss against Canada at the Rio Olympics? Too much for here.
But now for the first time (look at the development) they are in a tournament without easy wins. And look at their goals. An unforced penalty needed against Iceland. A goalie error needed against Austria after a set piece. A goalie error needed against Switzerland after a set piece. I assume they still think they have world class strikers and they continue to do so until the end of time. But fact is their attack is poorer than Portugal or Scotland. Only people dont realise that because every now and then and under special circumstances they score spectacular goals like in the USA what remains in our minds and overpaint the harsh reality.
If they again have the good luck coming their way they are able to score against England especially on counter attacks. But more likely they can easily play 5 hours without.
While France was so weak being still in the competition is a lucky incident England have been better than expected giving them a decent advantage now.
Have they finally found a line up that is more capable to score? It might be a good example on how easy you can get that wrong – what they did over the last two years but hopefully not anymore. Have a look at how often they made the error to switch their line up in the back. Coach Sampson was asked after the second game against Spain that this was his 55th match in charge and why for the first time he didnt change the starting eleven.
But you never know. And you shouldnt expect every day things are going so much their way like they have so far. Winning such tournaments isnt about being the most impressive side in a majority of the matches. It is about finding a way on your bad day and also having the right opponent at the right day. If France however is unable to find a way to be a better opponent on this quarter final day than they have been so far the English chances should be good.