Wednesday 23 August 2017

Janko's diving header proves crucial as revitalised Austria seize initiative

Austria 2, Sweden 1

John Fallon

AUSTRIA were more ruthless than Ireland as they punished Sweden's creaking defence to enhance their World Cup qualification hopes.

This victory at the Ernst Happel Stadium was their third in their last four qualifiers, keeping them level with Ireland in second place of Group C on 11 points, with a goal difference of plus 10 compared to Ireland's plus two.

Without an appearance at the biggest show in world football since the 1998 finals, there's momentum growing around Austria's bid to claim the play-off spot.

Germany, who beat them 2-1 in Vienna last September, are next up for Marcel Koller's side on September 6 before what promises to a pivotal clash against Ireland four days later in Vienna.

It had all started so promisingly for Sweden.

Johan Elmander's return to the side in a lone striker's role had the home defence rattled in the early stages and Alexander Kacaniklic was rampant on the left flank.

Inside the second minute, Fulham man Kacaniklic sought a penalty for a push from Gyorgy Garics while former Bolton forward Elmander smashed a glorious chance over the crossbar less than 60 seconds later.

Jonas Olsen was also wasteful on 11 minutes after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's knock-back from Kim Kallstrom's deep free-kick didn't get the proper connection six yards out from the West Brom defender.

The Swedish game plan to neutralise David Alaba's impact by stationing Kallstrom on the playmaker was working a treat.

What they didn't account for was a major defensive lapse on 25 minutes providing Austria with their first effort on goal from the penalty spot.

Robert Almer's long kick-out was misjudged by the retreating Olsen, who let Martin Harnik slip behind him to lob the advancing Andreas Isaksson.

Once referee Gianluca Rocchi saw the effort bounce wide, he correctly penalised the goalkeeper for clipping Martin Harnik and Alaba drove the spot-kick down the middle for the opener.

Buoyed by that breakthrough, the enlivened home crowd bayed for more and the natives obliged.

They had to survive a scare first on 32 minutes when Kacaniklic's rising 20-yard shot cleared the bar by a yard.

But, straight from the kick-out, Alaba fed Harnik on the right who cut in onto his stronger left foot to deliver a low cross.

Just like his central-defensive partner has done six minutes earlier, Andreas Granqvist switched off momentarily to enable Mark Janko apply a diving header into the bottom corner.

While Alaba shone once more amid much acclaim, it was yet again a frustrating night for the other big name on show, Ibrahimovic.

That his first attempt on goal took 56 minutes to arrive summed up another night of woe on the international stage for the €30m-rated talisman.

Eight minutes from time, he released Elmander to hook the ball past Robert Almer but that proved a mere consolation for the visitors.

Ireland will have to deal with a wounded animal on September 6 when they welcome a Swedish side, who can go level again with Ireland and Austria on Tuesday with a win over the Faroe Islands.

It makes for an interesting double-header in September.

Irish Independent

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