Austria deservedly defeated Ukraine 1-0 in Bucharest to finish second in Group C and set up a last-16 meeting with Italy as their beaten opponents wait to learn their fate.
Only goals scored separated the sides heading into Monday’s matchday three clash, but Austria had to win to leapfrog Ukraine and secure a top-two place along with the Netherlands.
Christoph Baumgartner’s first-half goal ensured they progressed from the group stage of a European Championship for the first time and their prize is a trip to Wembley to face the in-form Azzurri on Saturday.
Although Ukraine could yet join them in the knockout stage, Andriy Shevchenko’s men underwhelmed and might do well to advance as one of the four best third-placed teams with only three points and a negative goal difference.
Austria were on the front foot from the outset but created little of note until David Alaba delivered a dangerous corner into the centre of the box and Baumgartner toed his finish beyond Georgi Bushchan after 21 minutes.
Baumgartner had taken a blow to his head prior to scoring and eventually made way after going down again, but his team-mates continued to pose the greater threat and Marko Arnautovic should have done better than prod a tame effort wide three minutes before the break.
Ukraine’s best first-half chance saw Daniel Bachmann slightly fortunate as his parry from Mykola Shaparenko’s shot narrowly evaded Andriy Yarmolenko.
Shevchenko’s side showed scant improvement after the interval, yet Austria’s inability to add a second set up a nervy last 10 minutes.
Even then, Ukraine could not muster a second effort on target, their exciting play in the first two matches quickly forgotten as they failed to prey on their opponents’ evident nerves.
What does it mean? First-half flurry just about enough
In the first half, Austria had eight corners and 13 shots – second only to Italy’s 14 against Turkey through 45 minutes in the tournament. This attacking endeavour secured their first ever half-time lead at a European Championship.
It was still an extremely profligate performance, though, and Austria will surely be punished by Italy if they similarly fail to take their chances again.
Alaba always looks most likely
Having fulfilled a variety of roles for his country, Alaba settled back into the left-back position in which he established himself at Bayern Munich. Even from there, though, he was Austria’s chief creative force.
Four first-half key passes brought Alaba only one shy of Martin Harnik’s single-game Austria record at the Euros (five vs Croatia in 2008).
Arnautovic almost costs his country
While it might be a little harsh to criticise an Austria player after a vital victory, Arnautovic’s failure to effectively put the game beyond Ukraine could so easily have proven costly.
Returning to the side following suspension, Arnautovic had four shots but scarcely troubled Bushchan, who faced 18 attempts yet only four on target.
Key Opta Facts
– Austria have progressed through the group stage of a European Championship for the first time ever, while they have made it out of the initial group stages of a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup.
– Ukraine have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their nine games at European Championships, the most matches played in the competition by a team without a single shutout. Only Romania have conceded in more consecutive European Championship games, a run of 10 ending on June 24, 2000.
– Ukraine faced a total of 18 shots against Austria, the joint-most they have ever allowed in a European Championship game (also 18 v Germany in 2016).
– Baumgartner became the youngest scorer so far at Euro 2020 (21y 324d), courtesy of his opener against Ukraine.
– Aleksandar Dragovic made his 93rd appearance for Austria, making him the joint-third most capped player for the country (level with Gerhard Hanappi), after Andi Herzog (103) and Toni Polster (96).
Austria know their travel plans, but Ukraine – already behind four-point Switzerland, third in Group A – must wait and see if they have another match or are instead heading home.
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