In-demand striker Sasa Kalajdzic shows his limitations despite Austria win - Euro 2020 Scouting Report

Bundesliga forward fails to shine as Austria see off North Macedonia after he departs the pitch

Karl Matchett
Sunday 13 June 2021 19:06
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England national anthem rings out ahead of Euro 2020 clash with Croatia

It was a war of attrition far more than a classic for the ages, but an eventual 3-1 win for Austria over North Macedonia was historic for all kinds of reasons.

The defeated side scored their first goal in their first game at their first major finals. The victors, coming into this game, had never won a game at the European Championships. They had in fact won just once at a major tournament of any kind since 1982.

But goals from substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic have ended both those unwanted statistics and puts Austria in the driving seat for a last-16 place - the goalscorers being particularly notable as they were far more effective, and impressive, than the younger and much-admired Sasa Kalajdzic.

The 23-year-old has established himself as the starting No9 for his nation coming into Euro 2020, thanks to a 17-goal season with Stuttgart - all but one coming in the Bundesliga - and notching three international goals in his first seven caps at senior level.

Those strikes have reportedly drawn the attentions of clubs in the Premier League - Tottenham , Everton and West Ham, among others - but the scouting reports will have added footnotes this week over what he perhaps can’t do as much as what he can.

For a nation which has bags of quality in midfield, good options in defence and a number of supporting cast members of the attack, the need to find a real quality, reliable option at centre-forward is realistically the difference between group stage struggles and perhaps a last-eight spot at major tournaments.

The likes of David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer and Xaver Schlager are all good enough to help the team go that far...if there is someone to regularly put the ball in the net.

Of course, one game never defines what a player can achieve and there should be several more major tournaments ahead, but Austria had hoped that Kalajdzic could be that player now.

His performance here shows that he’s still a way off being that player, with too many limitations to his game compared to Europe’s finest forwards.

He’s hard-working, offers himself for the ball, drops deep or runs in behind, is a threat when given space in the box. That was all on show. But also plainly visible was his link-up play being below-par at times, his first touch being wayward and a real lack of instinct to get a quick effort away on goal.

A tall and powerful striker with a knack for the aerial battle, North Macedonia nullified his close-range threat with tight marking and - whether by their design or Austria’s - not seeing too many crosses put in from wide toward him.

Similarly, he was not able to get involved by coming deep, doesn’t have the pace to stretch play with runs in behind the defence and seemed to have no answer to the sheer numbers around him. That’s something he must learn to grapple with - mentally rather than physically - to reach the next level and become a striker who can be effective in all games, rather than certain situations.

That’s not to say he offered nothing; taking the attention of two defenders arguably led in part to the space Stefan Lainer exploited at the back post for the first goal, while North Macedonia visibly tiring toward the end of the game, particularly visible with Arnautovic’s late strike, would of course be partly down to the efforts of Austria’s starters.

But having seen the impact of other big-name, potentially-on-the-move-this-summer strikers at Euro 2020 so far, this performance was a disappointment for Kalajdzic.

The duo off the bench have both staked their claim to come into the side next time out; whether he starts or not, the need to impact almost every time is the next challenge for the Stuttgart man to solve.

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