BUCHAREST ⸺ Christoph Baumgartner is looking forward to a “special” meeting with Italy in the last 16 after his goal in a 1-0 win over Ukraine handed his side second place in Group C and a first ever appearance in the European Championship knockout stages.
Austria were worthy winners in a poor game, but the result leaves Ukraine sweating on what looks a slim chance they will be among the four best third-placed teams and also earn their spot in the next round.
Baumgartner turned in David Alaba’s corner midway through the first half, and was then forced off after a blow to the head, as Austria profited from a lacklustre display from Ukraine, who battled to find fluidity when it seemingly mattered most in the tournament.
The Netherlands, who beat North Macedonia 3-0 in their final game, top the group with a full haul of nine points from their three games, while Austria are second on six points and Ukraine have three, and a negative goal difference.
Austria may not be celebrating for long, though, as they face the in-form Italians in the last 16 in London on Saturday, coming up against Roberto Mancini’s team that are unbeaten in their last 30 internationals and who have not conceded in 11 games.
“I still cannot believe it,” Baumgartner told reporters. “And on top of that my heard hurts. I’m happy for all of Austria and I hope everyone enjoyed it. We have had a tough time with the coronavirus, so enjoy this now.
“The round of 16 game against Italy will be something special. We made history today, but it is still not over.”
Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko will be bewildered with the limp showing of his side – they did, after all, finish top of their qualifying pool, picking up 20 points from their eight games – three more than holders Portugal. But they showed none of that tenacity against their workmanlike opponents.
“I’m so disappointed. I don’t even know what to say,” Ukraine midfielder Olexandr Zinchenko told EURO2020.com. “Our performance in the first half was unacceptable. The way we behaved on the pitch was unacceptable.
“We felt very well ahead of the game in the training sessions but nothing worked for us tonight.”
Austria made the early running and went ahead on 21 minutes through a simply-worked goal. Alaba’s corner delivery reached Baumgartner, who had moved ahead of his marker and prodded the ball into the net.
Marko Arnautovic, back in the side after a suspension, spurned an excellent opportunity to double the lead before the break when he found himself unmarked in the box, but could not get a solid connection on an inviting cross from Alessandro Schopf and the ball dribbled wide.
Ukraine were brighter at the start of the second half and showed more ambition to get forward and put Austria under pressure.
But a lack of accuracy with their passing continued to hamper the side and the only time they looked threatening was from occasional set-piece opportunities.
Even in the closing stages, as the minutes ticked away, they never looked like getting the goal that would have meant they finished above the Austrians.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was forgiving of the team at the final whistle, perhaps more than many of the country’s supporters.
“Yes, it was another difficult match. Yes, today we had a bitter and unfortunate loss. But even after the team lost the chance of making it to the last 16, our support is with you. Because these are our guys. We are with you, national team! Glory to Ukraine!” Zelenskiy said.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Nick Said in Cape Town; Editing by Christian Radnedge; Reuters