Christoph Baumgartner’s first half goal sealed a slice of history for Austria as they defeated dismal Ukraine 1-0 on Monday to finish runners-up in Group C and seal a first ever place in the last 16 of the European Championship.
Austria were able to celebrate their achievement, 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 place in the knockout stages.
Baumgartner turned in David Alaba’s corner midway through the first half 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 in-form Italy 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.
Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko will be bewildered with the limp showing of his side â€“ they did, after all, finish top of their qualifying pool, picking up 20 points from their eight games â€“ three more than holders Portugal. But they showed none of that tenacity against their workmanlike opponents.
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.
Ukraine largely wasted what possession they had with misplaced passes but created a rare opening just before the half-hour mark when Mykola Shaparenko’s shot was beaten away by Austria goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann and Andriy Yarmolenko narrowly failed to get onto the rebound.
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, Ukraine never looked like getting the goal that would have meant they finished above the Austrians.