Even if Austria are beaten in their last UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying Group 7 fixture with Denmark on Saturday they have already achieved something unprecedented.
A win for Austria in St Polten would give them a chance of automatic qualification ahead of next Wednesday's concluding games, which they will sit out. But whatever happens against a Denmark side yet to drop a point or concede a goal, Austria have ensured at least a place in next month's play-offs, leaving them one two-legged tie from a debut final tournament.
"On a good day we can match the top European teams," said coach Dominik Thalhammer, whose second-placed charges made certain of progress with a 3-2 victory in the Czech Republic in June. "I am looking forward to the qualifier with Denmark in a positive mood."
It will not be easy against visitors Denmark and their prolific young striker Pernille Harder, whose hat-trick condemned Austria to a 3-0 away defeat last October. And even if Austria do win, Denmark – currently two points clear – could still overtake them by beating Portugal in Vejle next Wednesday.
This does not dampen the enthusiasm of Austria after the five-match winning streak in the group that has taken them to unprecedented heights. Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) president Leopold Windtner said: "You can see a distinct improvement in the women's team."
That development is an immediate reward for the reorganisation of the female game in Austria, the ÖFB having a year ago opened a new women's football centre in St Polten partly funded by HatTrick, UEFA's investment programme for national associations.
"The ÖFB and I as president are fully behind this project," Windtner said. "Not only is the environment perfect, but the idea behind it as well. It is a step into the future, because in modern women's football it is not possible to compete at an international level without high-class training centres."
Thalhammer, who succeeded the late Ernst Weber last year, is profiting from an ever-increasing pool of talent: in the crucial victory in the Czech Republic six of the starting XI were born in the 1990s, with Nadine Prohaska and Sarah Puntigam thanking both coach and ÖFB for their backing by scoring vital goals. Teenager Laura Feiersinger, now with FC Bayern München, has already hit three in qualifying, and there is also experience in the attack in the shape of Nina Burger.
Now it remains to be seen if this team is mature enough to cause another surprise and take their place in next summer's finals in Sweden. They certainly seem capable of doing so.
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