Tuesday 16 January 2018

Alaba: 'We can win, but we must improve defensively'

Bayern Munich star Alaba remains Austria’s marquee player. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Bayern Munich star Alaba remains Austria’s marquee player. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

John Fallon

While Ireland will try to build on their momentum on Saturday in Vienna, Austria are still trying to find theirs as the weight of expectation turns on their star man David Alaba.

A sticky start to the Group D campaign, which saw them claim just one point in last month's double-header against Wales and Serbia, cast a long memory over the win against Georgia on the opening night which Ireland boss Martin O'Neill believes could be precious in the final reckoning.

Their problems in trying to gain traction in their latest campaign follow swiftly on from an abysmal showing at the Euro finals in June when optimism gave way to deflation.

That they took a point off eventual champions Portugal scarcely gained credit, as disappointing losses to Iceland and Hungary took the gloss off an unbeaten qualification campaign.

Bayern Munich star Alaba, a Champions League winner from 2013, remains Austria's marquee player and while the plaudits began to intensify in his homeland that year as his goals almost earned them a World Cup play-off in a group featuring Ireland, equally he's been partially blamed for their latest struggles.

So much so that pressure has come on manager Marcel Koller to redeploy Alaba from midfield to the left-back berth he occupies for Bayern.

The problems experienced by Tottenham defender Kevin Wimmer in that role in Belgrade last month trying to shackle Dusan Tadic only reaffirmed the belief that Alaba could serve his nation better in his natural position.

Speaking yesterday, the 24-year-old batted away the criticisms levelled at himself and the team, preferring to take solace from their record against Ireland.

Alaba scored in both meetings during the last World Cup qualification, his winner in their home game ending Ireland's qualification prospects and the managerial tenure of Giovanni Trapattoni.

"I don't get distracted by what's being said," he insisted. "My aim is always to be myself and perform for my country.

"I have been playing well in recent weeks and plan to continue that on Saturday.

"This is an important game for us, one we can win, but we must improve defensively.

"If we concede three times like we did against Serbia, it will very difficult to achieve a result," Alaba added.

"I have good memories from our last meeting with Ireland in Vienna and this game will also be sold-out with a brilliant atmosphere.

"There is a long way to go in the campaign but to win in front of our fans would be a nice moment for us."

Under-pressure Koller will be without two of his mainstays after Werder Bremen midfiedler Zlatko Junuzovic and defender Sebastian Prodl of Watford were forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury.

Irish Independent

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