Friday 20 January 2017

Koller plays down pressure factor

Miguel Delaney

Published 12/11/2016 | 02:30

Austria manager Marcel Koller:
Austria manager Marcel Koller: "I don’t think it’s decisive – we’ll still have six more games left." Photo: Sportsfile

If Austria are under pressure, without three usual starters and badly in need of three points against Ireland, you wouldn't have felt it in their pre-game press conference.

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Manager Marcel Koller was happily talking about how it was his 56th birthday yesterday, and completely playing down the idea - often repeated by his own players - that they badly need to win this game.

His side lie three points off top of the group, having drawn 2-2 at home to Wales and lost 3-2 away to Serbia, and yet another Vienna game without victory would leave them with a lot to do away from home. Koller wouldn't go that far.

"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 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."

Koller probably has to try and maintain a measured mood, because this is an Austria squad that have struggled to adjust to a changed reality. They have gone from one of the most exciting young teams on the continent, expected to excel at Euro 2016, to one who flopped out at the first-round stage. It also seems like they still haven't recovered from the summer, because the contrast in results from 2014-'15 is conspicuous.

Having won nine of 10 unbeaten games in reaching France, they have only won one of their last six competitive matches, and that was against Georgia. Their previously cast-iron defence has also already conceded more goals in this campaign, with six, than they did in the whole of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with just five.

Koller thereby spent a lot of time talking about the need to "work hard" at the back, but he has had to do so without goalkeeper Robert Almer and defender Sebastian Prodl, who are both injured, to go with midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic.

Asked about why so much has changed with the team, midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger argued that actual performances weren't as bad as had been suggested.

Speculated

"After the European qualification, everyone speculated that we were going to be really successful at the Euros. Even there, every game was really close, so you can see that it can go either way.

"We have to think positively and we know we can come back. We still think it is going to be a good, positive qualification round for us."

Austria's form is not the only difference from when they last met Ireland in September 2013, to win 1-0. Koller said the Irish side have "improved" since then - but noted the injuries to Shane Long, James McCarthy and Stephen Ward.

"They are better. But on the other hand, three important players are missing from the Irish team and most of them are part of the regular squad. 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. But it's a home game and we have to have the right mentality to get the three points."

Irish Independent

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