Austria’s Nicole Billa books quarter-final with Germany as Norway crash out

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The Guardian

Austria rocked the Amex Stadium with a crushing upset as they defeated Norway 1-0 to secure a quarter-final place and send the Norwegians home in the group stage for the second Euros in a row.

Nicole Billa’s first-half header proved enough to defeat disappointing opponents after a dominant performance in Brighton. Austria will now play the Group B winners, Germany, in Brentford on Thursday.

Austria started with a high tempo, winning a free-kick and nicking midfield ball. They earned the first corner of the game with Verena Hanshaw hammering it in but Guro Pettersen settled any Norway nerves with a simple catch. Manuela Zinsberger was tested next. Guro Reiten sent in a great ball but the Arsenal shot-stopper plucked it from the air.

A succession of free-kicks led to another Austrian corner which pinballed around the box, eventually landing to Laura Feiersinger. Her strike rattled the woodwork after Pettersen fumbled the save. In the chaos in the box Nicole Billa took a knock to the head but the playmaker was soon back to her feet.

Caroline Graham Hansen got some edge back into the Norwegian attack, making a great run but she sent her attempt wide. Julie Blakstad then did a stellar job in defence as Austria looked to press once more. She stole the ball, ran around two defenders and won a free-kick.

Nicole Billa

Her masterful footwork frustrated Julia Hicklesberger-Füller whose objections to referee Kateryna Monzul earned her a yellow for dissent. The Norwegian set-piece saw the team building from deep but it led to nothing, Austria defended well to keep the pressure on their opponents.

Austrian fans gasps rang around the Amex Stadium as Billa looked to shoot. Pettersen pushed it away and Frida Maanum made a last-ditch clearance to keep the deadlock intact. But it didn’t last long as Billa came storming through once again. Hanshaw passed to Billa whose well-timed run and header opened the scoring on 37 minutes.

The air seemed to zap from Norway’s players as dejection swept through the squad; needing a win to progress, they knew they would now have to score two to go through.

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg reacts at the final whistle as Austria players celebrate. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

It was Austria who had the better start after half-time. Hicklesberger-Füller made a storming run down the right with Pettersen forced to collect the resulting cross. There was a worrying moment for Austria soon after with Laura Wienroither being treated by medics after a clash with Reiten but there was a sigh of relief as she re-entered play.

Norway looked to strike back but a pass to Ada Hegerberg was cut out by Carina Wenninger. The flash of attacking press sparked some fight and soon Norway were on the front foot. After a prolonged buildup, Hegerberg had a shot but it went wide.

It looked as though Norway had finally settled into the match and the team were giving their fans more to cheer than just the Mexican wave, albeit only skewed chances. At the other end, Pettersen once again kept her side in the game with a save and was put to work a few moments later from a thundering Billa shot.

The goalkeeper, who had a stellar evening, kept Billa out again and sent Norway on their way upfield. A link-up between Hegerberg and Graham Hansen went awry but it came to Reiten, whose attempt sailed over the bar. Lisa Makas had a chance just seconds after coming on but Pettersen did enough to push it wide. Hegerberg had two quick chances close to the end but could not capitalise.

Austria’s journey continues but Norway will be heading to the airport. It is another disappointing Euros for the side and while England knocked the stuffing out of their campaign with their 8-0 thumping, it was Austria who landed the killer blow.

July 16, 2022 at 02:52AM Sarah Rendell at the Amex Stadium

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