Saturday’s result was so far the biggest surprise of Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification: Despite an intermediate five-goal deficit in the middle of the second half, Austria struck back and overcame Olympic champions Russia to win their first two points.
The match winner was clearly goalkeeper and new team captain Petra Blazek, who put on an incredible performance.
Austria made history on Saturday night – four days after their 25:36 defeat in Romania, the hosts of Saturday’s match gained enough confidence to take the upper hand against Russia.
The Olympic champions lost their pace rapidly after a strong start and were ultimately too weak in attack to take their second win, after the 32:25 victory against Portugal in Round 1. Now, both sides are equal on two points.
As expected, Russia started like Swiss clockwork. Their defence was solid as a rock and their attacking efficiency nearly 100 per cent. Even an early time-out from Austria coach Herbert Müller, with the score at 0:4 after only six minutes, did not cause the visitors’ downswing. Russia forged ahead to 7:2 and seemed already on their way to a win.
But Austria did not give in, reducing the deficit to 7:9, improving in defence and beginning to find the spaces in attack. At the break, they had almost bridged the gap, with the distance at three goals.
Like in the initial stages of the first half, Russia were dominant when the match resumed, pulling ahead to 19:14. But perhaps they felt too confident, thinking they had won the points already.
Austria, backed by the fans in Vienna Südstadt and boosted by the saves of goalkeeper Petra Blazek, showed morale. A triple strike decreased the score line to 17:19 and forced Russia coach Evgeny Trefilov to call a time-out.
But the momentum did not change sides. Austria levelled the score for the first time at 23:23, Blazek saved two penalty shots and Beate Scheffknecht struck for Austria’s first lead at 24:23.
When Russia missed two more shots and the hosts took the advantage at 26:24, the deal was sealed – the Austrian dream had become reality.