As far back as 1934, Austria had won a game at the Fifa World Cup. In ‘54, they finished third at the same competition – one of the finest international sides on the planet, by the tournament’s reckoning. Even at Italia ‘90 when they didn’t get out of the group stage, they won a game.
But at the European Championships? Never reached the second round. Never won a match.
Only ever played at the Euros twice in fact – and one of those was qualifying as hosts. If David Alaba and co want to write themselves into the annuls of Austrian football folklore, winning the nation’s first-ever game at the European Championship finals would be an ideal place to start.
And what better timing than the very first game? Austria and North Macedonia came together in qualifying for Euro 2020; victories by 2-1 at home and 4-1 away show they have the measure and more of their opening opponents, so confidence and optimism should be rife.
Against that, Austria’s most recent form has dipped alarmingly.
From five straight wins in 2020, with a handful of clean sheets to boot, their World Cup qualification campaign hasn’t started well. A draw with Scotland and defeat to Denmark sandwiched a necessary, but insignificant, victory over the Faroe Islands. There’s already work to do to ensure Euro 2020 isn’t a one-off in terms of qualifying for a major finals.
Head coach Franco Foda, a German-born former defender who has spent most of his coaching career in Austria, will need to find a way not just to get the best out of attacking talents such as Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic, but to even get them in the team.
Austria’s squad is heavily weighted in some positions, and thin in others.
A balancing act is crucial; if Foda manages it then history surely awaits – but quite how much of it is uncertain for a team who have flattered to deceive of late.
Sunday 13 June, 5pm – Austria vs North Macedonia
Thursday 17 June, 8pm – Netherlands vs Austria
Monday 21 June, 5pm – Ukraine vs Austria
Goalkeepers: Daniel Bachmann (Watford), Pavao Pervan (Wolfsburg), Alexander Schlager (LASK).
Defenders: David Alaba (Bayern), Aleksandar Dragović (Leverkusen), Marco Friedl (Werder Bremen), Martin Hinteregger (Frankfurt), Stefan Lainer (Mönchengladbach), Philipp Lienhart (Freiburg), Stefan Posch (Hoffenheim), Andreas Ulmer (Salzburg).
Midfielders: Julian Baumgartlinger (Leverkusen), Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim), Florian Grillitsch (Hoffenheim), Stefan Ilsanker (Frankfurt), Konrad Laimer (Leipzig), Valentino Lazaro (Internazionale), Karim Onisiwo (Mainz), Marcel Sabitzer (Leipzig), Louis Schaub (Luzern), Xaver Schlager (Wolfsburg), Alessandro Schöpf (Schalke), Christopher Trimmel (Union Berlin).
Forwards: Marko Arnautović (Shanghai Port), Michael Gregoritsch (Augsburg), Sasa Kalajdzic (Stuttgart).
Ones to watch
David Alaba. The star of the show in terms of reputation, he’s about to swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid – it doesn’t get much higher-profile. Most frequently features in midfield roles – either from the left or through the middle – for his national side rather than in defence as he does at club level.
Xaver Schlager. If Alaba plays left, Wolfsburg’s industrious and talented 23-year-old Schlager is likely to be at the heart of the team. He has a great capacity to drive the team upfield, isn’t afraid to try ambitious passes and can strike the ball well from range.
Odds to win tournament – 75/1
Should be able to get through the group phase, but any further will require them to be far more consistent than they have been recently, particularly defensively. Defeat in the last 16.
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