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[Last Encounter]Austria dreaming of Wembley after historic qualification

  ”There’s no bigger footballing stage than Wembley.” That was the excited take of goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann after Austria set up a round of 16 meeting with Italy at the famous stadium on Saturday – and he should know, given that he plays his club football barely 15km up the road in Watford.

  Having already clocked around 8,000km on their pan-European adventure, a gargantuan task now awaits Bachmann and Co in London following their historic win against Ukraine in Bucharest. Victory sealed Austria’s progress to a EURO knockout stage for the very first time, and they are about to get a thrilling introduction.

  ”Is there anything better than playing at Wembley against Italy?” asked an emotional Florian Grillitsch following his Star of the Match performance against Ukraine. “These are the games you watch on TV and then you get to play them for yourself. I don’t think you can describe that feeling.”

  Austria celebrate after the final whistle in Budapest

  Austria celebrate after the final whistle in BudapestGetty Images

  For head coach Franco Foda, his team’s historic qualification was about more than just fulfilling expectations. “We wanted to play for the fans,” he told EURO2020.com. “They travelled a long way to Bucharest and therefore we were glad to give them a reward.”

  The reward? A trip to the home of football. It has been 48 years since Austria last graced the hallowed turf of England’s national stadium – but it was a visit to forget as the Three Lions ran out 7-0 winners in a friendly.

  Indeed, Das Nationalteam’s only taste of victory at the iconic stadium came in a 3-2 friendly win against Alf Ramsey’s soon-to-be-crowned world champions in October 1965. Their last three matches on English soil have all ended in defeat – including the 1-0 loss to Gareth Southgate’s side in the warm-up friendly in Middlesbrough earlier this month.

  As they now prepare for their first knockout fixture since 1954, the task at hand could not be more difficult. Roberto Mancini’s Italy, unbeaten in 30 games and through to the knockouts with maximum points and seven unanswered goals, are the team they will need to overcome to reach the quarter-finals.

  ”Italy haven’t lost in an eternity,” Franco Foda said. “But at some point, they will lose again. We will do everything we can to win in London. It will be tough, but the team is eager and ready.”

  History doesn’t favour the Austrians. Despite winning a respectable 12 of the 36 fixtures between the two nations, they haven’t beaten their southern neighbours for 51 years – losing ten and drawing three of their meetings since then. Their last encounter in a friendly in 2008 ended in a 2-2 draw.

  2013 final highlights: Bayern 2-1 Dortmund

  2013 final highlights: Bayern 2-1 Dortmund

  ”We all saw how Italy did in the group stages, but it will be incredible at Wembley,” said Austria captain David Alaba, who has already tasted glory there once before in 2013, when Bayern beat Dortmund 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League final. On Saturday, he returns with Austria. “We are here to dream,” he told reporters. “I believe that in football anything is possible.”

  That statement rings especially true at London’s historic venue. Gazza’s goal at EURO ’96, England’s FIFA World Cup win, seven European Cup and UEFA Champions League finals, and countless ‘David vs Goliath’ triumphs – Wembley has seen its fair share of iconic moments over the years.

  Perhaps Austria can add Das Wunder von Wembley to the list.

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