Sport Soccer

Monday 26 February 2018

Koller braces Austrians for 'aggressive' test

David Alaba, scoring a late equaliser in Lansdowne Road, is Austria's key performer
David Alaba, scoring a late equaliser in Lansdowne Road, is Austria's key performer
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

FOR Austria, this is also win-or-bust territory. A sell-out crowd at the Ernst Happel Stadium expect nothing less than three points from their encounter with an Irish team that has the usual stereotype attached.

The first question from their own press officer yesterday asked manager Marcel Koller if he was prepared for a physical battle. It was a theme that ran through their pre-match discussion, with the hosts anticipating an aerial bombardment; they can hardly be blamed after Ireland's one-dimensional approach to the Swedish loss.

Robbie Keane is the player they fear, however. The Irish skipper missed the 2-2 draw in Dublin in March, with Conor Sammon providing an agricultural alternative.

"I think everybody knows him," said Koller. "He is a player that never surrenders, who is always trying to get involved in fighting for the ball. We will really have to take care of him."

Giovanni Trapattoni is remembered in these parts for a mixed stint in charge of Red Bull Salzburg and while Koller sympathises with the Italian's struggles, he has his own fate to worry about.

After this encounter, the Austrians travel to take on Sweden and the Faroe Islands in their final two games. They were comfortably beaten by Germany on Friday and if they drop points here and Sweden triumph in Kazakhstan, there's a fair chance they are done and dusted.

Koller, who hails from neighbouring Switzerland, was keen to swat away the perception that Ireland are opponents they should beat.

"We are ranked 55th in the world and they are in the 40s (44th), so they should be favourites," he said. "Maybe you (a reporter) assume it is going to be an easy game but I don't know if you've seen them play yet – they play very physical, aggressive.

"I admire Trapattoni's success. You never wish anything bad on your colleagues, especially someone who has shown such passion throughout the years; of course I would feel sorry for him (if he lost his job)."

David Alaba is Austria's key performer and Koller is mulling over a reshuffle which would see the versatile Bayern Munich star move to the left flank as they seek to cover the unavailability of Zlatko Junukovic.

It is still more likely that the 21-year-old will drive through the midfield where he caused so many problems for the green shirts in the initial meeting, culminating with his deflected stoppage-time strike. Central midfielder Veli Kavlak broke his nose in the German reverse and could play wearing a protective mask, while Julian Baumgartlinger is back from suspension to strengthen the engine room.

Austrian skipper Christian Fuchs endured a torrid time at the hands of the Germans, even leading to speculation that he might be dropped, but Koller has kept his faith in the left-back, who accepted he was poor on Friday.

"I was critical with myself," he stressed. "But this game is too important so I cannot worry about that. Both teams have to win and I've heard that it might be the game of their lives, they will be very physical.

"We've already shown that we know how to face Ireland and, with the support of our fans, we can win."

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