Friday 15 December 2017

Welsh hit back as Austria belittle 'lucky' Euro feats

Gareth Bale in training ahead of tonight’s game against Austria Picture: Reuters
Gareth Bale in training ahead of tonight’s game against Austria Picture: Reuters

Jeremy Wilson

It is only three months since Chris Coleman led Wales to the greatest moment in their football history but they still arrived here in Vienna last night to what felt like only the most grudging respect.

Austrian coach Marcel Koller used the word "lucky" four times during his press conference yesterday in reference to Wales' achievement of reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016.

Coleman was naturally adamant that his team had deserved their success but, in drawing attention to the contrast between Austria's form in qualification and the tournament finals, he also seemed to reply with some mind-games of his own.

Austria had arrived in France with nine wins and a draw but exited limply after a solitary point and only one goal in matches against Hungary, Portugal and Iceland.

"A lot of teams went into the tournament with big reputations because they had fantastic (qualification) campaigns, but they couldn't handle the pressure in the tournament," said Coleman. "Our players handled the pressure. That's not luck."


Koller had appeared to reference Wales's group opener against Slovakia, which they eventually won 2-1.

"During the Euros they were lucky that a match did not turn in another direction," said Koller. "I think that helped the Welsh team get a really good portion of self-confidence."

Coleman was ready with his riposte. "Everybody has a little bit of luck," he said. "He may have been referring to the one Ben Davies kicked off the line in the first minute, but that was not luck, it was good defending. The bad luck we had in the first game was when Slovakia should have been down to 10 men.

"We played more games than most and, when that happens, you get a bit of good luck and bad luck. I wouldn't put our semi-final achievement down to luck. You can get lucky over 90 minutes sometimes, but you don't achieve that by being lucky.

"I say to the players, 'Remember how far you have come'. You can't do that by being lucky or having an incredible team spirit. You need talent and hunger and desire."

Koller was equally forthright in revealing Austria's plans for Gareth Bale, even if Coleman was just as unimpressed by his admission that we "will have two or three players in close vicinity for 90 minutes to try to disturb him".

Bale scored his 50th La Liga goal for Real Madrid on Sunday and Coleman is confident that he can evade a man-marking job by more than one player.

"It's normal; not a new game-plan," Coleman said. "That is what he faces every week but it is very difficult to come up with a game-plan against brilliance and that is what Gareth is.

"You can work as much as you like defensively. You can shut them out for 89 minutes and, in a split second, players like that can change the game."

It is not Coleman's first visit to the Ernst-Happel Stadion and he recalled last night how he scored here on his Wales debut back in 1992.

"It was in the last couple of minutes and we drew 1-1," he said. "It was my first experience of international football - it was different to anything I had been used to. The atmosphere was fantastic."

A total of 4,000 Wales fans have tickets, with the momentum from Euro 2016 certainly still evident. Coleman, though, stressed to his team that past history would be irrelevant.

"There is pressure on them to win the game," he said. "This Austria team did really well and it's a shame they didn't produce what was expected from them in the tournament.

"But the Euros are finished. They won't help us. We don't think about yesterday,." (Daily Telegraph, London)

Austria v Wales, Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm

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