Sport Soccer

Monday 20 November 2017

Austrians to rely on counter-attacking strength as new blood transforms their flagging fortunes

Austria are evolving and have their eyes on that second spot, writes Dion Fanning

As Ireland ran down the clock in Stockholm on Friday night, the draw was all they had on their minds. For the point to have real meaning, Giovanni Trapattoni's side will need three points on Tuesday night and home wins have always been difficult for Ireland.

There are many reasons to expect a draw. Ireland have beaten five teams in competitive games in Dublin since Trapattoni became manager. Armenia had the highest ranking, having moved up to 46th thanks to a fine qualifying campaign before they were unfortunate to lose in October 2011.

The other four – Cyprus, Georgia, Andorra and Macedonia – weren't always dealt with convincingly. The recent history of Austrian football would suggest that Ireland should win comfortably but the struggle and the 0-0 game are part of Trapattoni's way now.

Ireland might expect a draw but Austria feel they have to win. On Friday they beat the Faroe Islands 6-0, a demonstration of their vibrancy even if judging form is impossible in games against the lower-ranked teams. It won't have diminished their confidence, especially with the top scorer in the Austrian league Philipp Hosiner scoring twice.

Hosiner has scored 27 goals in 26 appearances during his first season at Austria Vienna and his two goals in Vienna on Friday night were a further demonstration of his threat and another indication that there is a new wave of Austrian footballers.

Five years ago, Austrian supporters were so concerned by the form of their team that 10,000 fans signed a petition demanding they withdraw from the European Championships which they were co-hosting.

Since then, there has been a re-shaping of the squad and the team that plays in the Aviva on Tuesday night will be youthful. Any inexperience will be countered by the knowledge the players have of one another. "These players have been playing together for several years," says Andreas Heidenreich, a journalist with Austrian newspaper Kurier.

"They have started an evolution with their team," Giovanni Trapattoni says. He left club football in Austria when the national team was at its low point but he says the current team are different: quick and dangerous. Players like Aston Villa's Andreas Weimann – currently kept out of the side by Hosiner (pictured, right) – and Bayern Munich's David Alaba are part of the young vibrant Austrian side that hopes to develop over the coming years.

Alaba plays at left-back for Bayern but that is a recent development. He plays in the centre of midfield for Austria as he has at all levels before he made his senior debut at the age of 17. "He is at the heart of everything," Heidenreich says. He also represents a new multi-cultural side which has been embraced by the country.

Last year, Alaba and his family objected when an Austrian TV show broadcast an ill-judged sketch which included one of the hosts 'blacking up' as Alaba. The station apologised to Alaba.

Alaba scored as well on Friday as Austria moved level on points with Ireland. If it wasn't for the scoreless draw in Astana, they would be in an even stronger position. Instead they feel they must win with the fight for second upset by Sweden's recovery in Berlin.

Weimann will probably start on the bench at the Aviva, although he could come in on the right, but he is part of a strong squad, something that gives Austrian fans hope. They feel they have a side suited to counter-attacking with some saying they have the most potent attack since the Toni Polster era. They also know Trap from his time in Austria where the collective memory sounds familiar. "I would say there is a neutral feeling," Heidenreich says. The Austrians remember this charismatic figure who brought great authority to everything he did.

Trapattoni arrived at SV Austria Salzburg in 2006 to head the remodelling of the club under Red Bull and the owner of the company and the club Dietrich Mateschitz. The billionaire's purchase of the club became controversial when he changed the name to Red Bull Salzburg.

Trapattoni's arrival brought some authority but the plan that he would become director of football and Lothar Matthaus would coach the team never worked out. Soon they were said to be co-coaches but Trapattoni was seen as the leader and Matthaus was his number two. Salzburg won the title in their first year.

Matthaus left the club in the summer in a reported dispute over the signing of Ibrahim Sekagya and Trap took over all duties which meant little changed. In his second season, they came second, losing the title by six points to Rapid Vienna who crushed them 7-0 as the title was lost.

Salzburg have won three titles in the years since and missed out on a fourth by three points. They remember the Trap years as a time of soul-sapping football and relentless defensive tactics. Nothing on Tuesday night will surprise them.

Irish Independent

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