Austria Women 2 – 0 N Ireland Women

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Northern Ireland’s slim hopes of qualifying for the Euro 2022 knockout stages are over after their 2-0 defeat to Austria at a scorching St Mary’s Stadium was followed by England’s win over Norway.

Kenny Shiels’ side went into their second group game knowing that failure to win would leave their knockout qualification hopes hanging by a thread, a scenario not helped by the 42-degree pitchside heat in Southampton at kick-off.

And minutes before Northern Ireland’s players were due to get a first-half water break, Katharina Schiechtl tapped home from close range from Sarah Puntigam’s free-kick, before substitute Katharina Naschenweng sealed the game late on.

The result meant Northern Ireland needed England to lose to Norway later on Monday but instead the tournament hosts delivered a record-breaking 8-0 win to seal the fate of Shiels’ side.

Austria started the better in the searing heat, with winger Julia Hickelsberger looking the brightest player on the pitch in the early exchanges.

Austria vs Northern Ireland
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The game was played in scorching heat, with the pitchside temperature at 42 degrees Celsius at kick-off

The 22-year-old Austria winger headed Barbara Dunst’s cross wide in the opening exchanges before setting up two chances for striker Nicole Billa early on – one that hit the side netting and the other smothered by goalkeeper Jackie Burns at the forward’s feet.

Northern Ireland rarely managed to get out of their half but did create some chances when they did. Lauren Wade and Kirsty McGuiness tried their luck, but goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger managed to hold both efforts easily.

And the deadlock was broken just moments before the much-needed drinks break for Northern Ireland as Schiechtl was on hand to tap home Puntigam’s deflected free-kick on the edge of the box – a set-piece won by the tricky Hickelsberger.

Katharina Schiechtl puts Austria in front from a free-kick
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Katharina Schiechtl puts Austria in front from a free-kick

It could have been two just seconds later as Hickelsberger was released down the right with a long ball forward – and only a last-ditch challenge from Sarah Mcfadden stopped Billa from having a tap-in.

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Burns went from zero to hero as her careless backpass fell straight into the path of Dunst, though the shot-stopper was able to tap the Austria winger’s chipped effort from distance onto the crossbar.

Shiels’ side managed to stifle Austria’s attacking impetus at the start of the second period but struggled to create chances of their own. Wade put another speculative first-time effort well over Zinsberger’s bar and little else followed at both ends until the hour mark.

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels looks on in anguish
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Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels looks on in anguish

For Austria, Dunst produced a shot from the edge of the box that squirmed through Burns’ hands – but landed on the top of the Northern Ireland net and not inside it. Substitute Laura Feiersinger flashed an effort just over the Northern Ireland goal as the game entered its final five minutes.

And the result was confirmed when substitute Abbie Magee was caught underneath Puntigam’s long punt forward, leaving Naschenweng to tuck the ball past Burns. As the final whistle blew minutes later, there was the feeling that Austria had kept their opponents very much at arm’s length.

Shiels: NI came to this Euros too soon

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels' after his side lost 2-0 to Austria
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Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels’ after his side lost 2-0 to Austria

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels to the BBC:

“I think 1-0, 2-0 was a bit fair. They weren’t predominantly better than us but they were in the key areas. 2-0 is probably about right.

“You look at the perspective and where we are and where Austria are in terms of where they’ve reached in the women’s game. They have one of the best academies in Europe. It’s a really tough opponent but we’re exercising that as much as we can and the players are getting the experience from the tough games – with one more coming and no bigger one than England.

“If you look at where we were when we came in, we reached this level too soon. There’s no way we can transform a team in two years how we have done and take it to that level immediately. We have some developmental stuff we need to do, with the 19, 20 year-olds to get them to the senior team.

Shiels addresses his Northern Ireland squad after the Austria defeat
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Shiels addresses his Northern Ireland squad after the Austria defeat

“Winning the match is important but I have a priority in my head where if we can’t win it, let’s give the youngster ones some experience, they’ll be around for many years.

“We’re not a good future yet, because we’re going to lose the experienced players. Have we enough to challenge the top teams, not yet. We have to keep improving the U19s and U17s, to improve them so they reach a level that they’re ready to play. Some of those players who [played today] are not ready to play, but the experience is part of the development. It’s vital we know that.

“They [England] are one of the top teams in the world, I’m not thinking about approaching that [third group] game until we get back to the hotel.”

McFadden: Players are absolutely gutted

Northern Ireland defender Sarah McFadden speaking to the BBC:

“Really close, we’re gutted. Absolutely gutted. In the first half, we got at them and didn’t capitalise, didn’t get a clear-cut chance. We thought today was the day we’d get a win in these championships.

“We were so in the game, we put so much into it in the first half. We had people in the changing room knackered at half-time but Austria have a team of superstars, with players who play in the best leagues in the world We tried to turn the screw but got caught out.

“These girls are so lucky, the future that they have in front of them. To play in front of these amazing fans, how can it not help you achieve your potential?”

What’s next?

Northern Ireland complete their Euro 2022 group stage campaign with a clash against tournament favourites England at St Mary’s on Friday evening, kick-off 8pm.

Austria take on Norway at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, also with an 8pm kick-off.



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