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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Comment: It's time for Irish to roll over Austria hoodoo in Vienna

Published 09/11/2016 | 02:30

Austria’s David Alaba celebrates after securing a draw that felt like a defeat for Ireland in 2013. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Austria’s David Alaba celebrates after securing a draw that felt like a defeat for Ireland in 2013. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There's something different about Austria when they play the Republic of Ireland, especially in competitive matches - and it's not to our advantage.

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Traditionally overshadowed by their mighty neighbours Germany, Austria tend to produce good teams, but not great teams.

Toni Polster left Ireland fans in tears in 1995
Toni Polster left Ireland fans in tears in 1995

They last qualified for a World Cup in 1998, and have played in just two European Championship finals, as joint-hosts in 2008 and last summer's tournament.

Austria are ranked 30th in the world right now, with Ireland 33rd, so there should be no fear facing them.

The problem is that traditionally the Irish have come a cropper in Vienna and in Dublin when the results really mattered. Back in 1995, Jack Charlton had a dream of rounding off his managerial career by taking Ireland to his homeland for Euro 96.

What a fitting epitaph that would have been for the man who led us to a first major tournament in the 1988 European Championships. But Austria - helped by a combination of Jack's self-imposed absence, and the lads going on the beer in Limerick the week prior to the match - inflicted a 3-1 reminder that they should be taken seriously.

A dissapointed Irish fan pictured after Republic of Ireland's defeat to Austria in 1995. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
A dissapointed Irish fan pictured after Republic of Ireland's defeat to Austria in 1995. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

On that occasion, Charlton's men were done like the proverbial Harry Ramsden's Challenge kipper.

Modern sports nutritionists would be aghast at the idea that an international squad could be treated to an 'all you can eat' feast of fish 'n' chips by their manager the day before a European Championships qualifier - and this en route to training.

That defeat in June 1995, followed in September by a 3-1 away defeat, was instrumental in hastening Charlton's demise, despite finishing ahead of Austria in the group and earning a play-off against Holland.

Jack's successor, Mick McCarthy, had his travails and triumphs, but he never had to face Austria.

Giovanni Trapattoni knew Austrian football from the inside, as he left Red Bull Salzburg to take on the Irish job in 2008. His brief was to get us to a major tournament, which he did in Euro 2012.

It did not go well, but Trap received the green light to carry on regardless, and our sights were set on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Yep, you know how that ended - bloody Austria again.

March 26, 2013 at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland 2, Austria 1, and the match goes into time added on by the referee.

In the 92nd minute, David Alaba poaches an equaliser. A draw that felt like a defeat.

September 10, 2013, at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna. Six minutes to play, level at 0-0. This could be a decent point to take from Austria, but up pops Alaba again to strike what proves to be the winning goal.

Trapattoni was already under pressure following home defeats by Germany (6-1) and Sweden 2-1. Austria was the final straw. The next day, September 11, the Italian parted company with the FAI.

There's another funny thing about Austria - their big names, such as they are, tend to plunder goals against us.

Some teams, such as Sweden, parade their leading lights but our lads manage to keep them in check. Their talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played against Ireland four times since 2006 - most recently in the European Championship last summer - and has yet to score a goal.

By contrast, Austria's main men tend to do most damage.

Toni Polster, who went on to become Austria's leading goalscorer with 44 goals in 95 appearances, nicked two goals in the June, 1995 game in Dublin.

Peter Stoeger, currently manager of Cologne in the Bundesliga, scored a hat-trick in the 3-0 win against Charlton's team in September '95.

The highly respected midfielder finished his career on 65 caps and 15 goals - a third of them against Ireland. And then came Alaba, who loves to find a way through the wall of green in front of the Irish goal.

As Roy Keane said yesterday, The Bayern Munich star is not the only threat Austria will pose on Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic, a Stoke City team-mate of Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters, comes into that category. He scored twice against Wales last month.

Irish boss Martin O'Neill and his backroom team have much to ponder this week, particularly with the injuries and absentees.

He will, however, do his utmost to avoid joining the list of Irish managers who found Austria too hot to handle in vital qualifying matches since 1971 when the control of the infamous 'Big 5' FAI selection committee had reverted to managers who actually got to pick the team.

That tradition of Austrian superiority goes back to Mick Meagan and Liam Tuohy in Euro '72 qualifying. Time for a change.

Irish Independent

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