3 things we learned from Austria v. North Macedonia
Marko Arnautovic came off the bench to star and lift Austria to a 3-1 win over North Macedonia in the two sides’ EURO 2020 opener at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, on Sunday.
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Stefan Lainer’s opening goal was wiped out when Goran Pandev scored North Macedonia’s first-ever goal at a major international tournament, but Michael Gregoritsch scored the winner late on before Arnautovic bagged a third even later.
Three things we learned: Austria - North Macedonia
1. North Macedonia make major tournament debut: Win, lose or draw — whatever the scoreboard said at full-time — North Macedonia gave a truly inspiring account of themselves as the tiny nation of 2 million made its international tournament debut.
2. Alaba slots in at center back, in a back-three: Austria’s version of “Are MLS players good enough for the USMNT?” will be, apparently until the end of time, “Where will David Alaba play?” For Austria and Bayern Munich, the 28-year-old soon-to-be Real Madrid man has played (and excelled) in as many as five different position through the years. Coming into EURO 2020, two options seemed likeliest: center back and defensive midfielder. Alas, even the most in-the-know Austrian pundits were baffled without even knowing what formation head coach Franco Foda would deploy. In the end, though, Alaba’s most important contribution — his scrumptious cross to find Gregoritsch for the winning goal — came when he find himself wide on the left and pushed all the way up the field.
3. After slow start, Austria hit their stride late: Arnautovic didn’t start Sunday’s EURO 2020 opener, but he made his presence known as he came off the bench in the second half and turned a sputtering game on its head. Austria took control of proceedings and always looked like scoring a second (and third) goal from his introduction. The former West Ham United winger bagged the late insurance goal, among his deserved spoils.
Man of the match: Marko Arnautovic - Alaba was fantastic throughout the 90 minutes, but Arnautovic was almost singlehandedly the difference between a game that slowly bleeds out and ends a 1-1 draw for Austria, and the impressive, free-flowing display we saw over the final 10-15 minutes.
Alaba’s cross wasn’t the only jaw-dropping ball played into the box by an Austrian player, as Marcel Sabitzer dropped this sensational dime for Lainer’s opener in the 18th minute.
North Macedonia hit back quickly, though, and of course it was Pandev, the 37-year-old legend who has carried the flag for his countrymen at the highest level in Italy for nearly 20 years. The scenes in and around the Austrian penalty area were chaotic, and Pandev eventually came up with the goods.
After Alaba set up Gregoritsch for the second goal, North Macedonia quickly deflated with an incredibly tall task now in front of them. Arnautovic put the game to bed by casually rounding the goalkeeper for goal no. 3 just before full-time.
Up next for Austria is a clash with the Netherlands on Thursday (3 pm ET), while North Macedonia will face Ukraine on the same day (9 am ET).