Austria boss Marcel Koller expecting tough encounter with 'improved' Ireland
Austria manager Marcel Koller says he expects a close game from an Ireland team who have “improved” since his side beat them 1-0 in Vienna in September 2013.
That home victory ended Giovanni Trapattoni’s time in charge of Ireland, but it is not the only thing that has changed in three years. An Austrian side then seen as one of the brightest in Europe have since suffered a very difficult year, going out of the Euro 2016 at the group stage and only winning one competitive, while Martin O’Neill has restored a resilience to Ireland.
Koller, however, eschewed the usual pre-game practice of opposition figures talking up Ireland’s stereotypical fight and aggression. He instead pointed to the absence of Shane Long, Stephen Ward and James McCarthy.
“I think they have improved,” Koller said. “They are better. But on on the other hand, three important players are missing from the Irish team and most of them are part of the regular squad.
“For both teams, it's a very important game and we will have to wait and see who wins. I hope we are going to win.
“Those players are familiar to me and they are important players to Ireland, but on the other hand, we have to focus on ourselves.
“An hour before the game starts, we will know exactly how they are going to play and then we can prepare for that as well.”
Friday was actually Koller’s 56th birthday, but he merely said he wanted to celebrate it with a win. That could require Austria acting on one of the issues most brought up in their press conference - their struggles in defence. Having only conceded five goals in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, they have already let in more in the three games of this World Cup group so far, with six.
“Well, in the last couple of months, a lot of things have changed. We did win a lot of games before the European qualification round, but then as you know, we lost some games.
“Now it's important for us to focus on our defence again and work hard on that, but of course, we have to try to score as well.
“The last couple of games we lost, we created chances, but we didn't score and that's what we have to focus on.
“We should pay attention to not concede too many goals and score more.”
Koller must do that without goalkeeper Robert Almer, defender Sebastian Prodl and midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic, who are all injured.
He played down the repeated suggestion, however, that his side badly need a win to keep their hopes alive.
“I don't think it's decisive – we'll still have six more games left. Of course if you lose more games, it's going to be even harder.
“But I repeat, every game is going to be close until the end, so we are going to have to work hard on that.
“But it's not about my position or anything else, it's about the six games and that we put the players in the right position and ready to play so we can win.
“We have done everything we can to get good results.
“It's the fifth birthday I have celebrated with the team already, so I'd rather celebrate a victory tomorrow.”