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Wednesday 13 December 2017

'If we bring our quality to the pitch we'll get away with the three points'

Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner is pictured in training in Suedstadt, Austria. Pic: Reuters
Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner is pictured in training in Suedstadt, Austria. Pic: Reuters

The Austrian side have not shown a lot of courage in the World Cup qualifying campaign to date.

In fact, it seems that Marcel Koller's men have been afflicted by something since the day they qualified for Euro 2016 as they have done nothing since, bar let down their fans.

But for an Austrian camp that carried a lot of baggage in terms of pressure when they landed in Dublin airport today, tomorrow's game at Lansdowne Road is about being clever on the ball as well as being courageous in their battles.

Make no bones about it, they expect a battle.

Every interview with the players in Koller's squad this week has been laced with the usual words in relation to Ireland: physical, tough-tackling, long balls, aerial battles.

They have a world-class player in Bayern Munich man David Alaba, as Ireland know all too well (he scored in both games as Austria took four points off Ireland in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers), but little else in terms of quality.

Yet key Austrian man Zlatko Junuzovic wants his side to show brains as well as brawn in Dublin 4 tomorrow.

"We have to be tough physically, but we also have to make use of our strengths with the ball.

"If we only put the long balls forward, it might be a scrappy game," said Junozovic, a player who was born in Serbia but opted to play for Austria as his family moved there when he was a small boy.

"The fire is there within us, everyone is at full throttle. I am sure, if we get our qualities on the pitch, we are the better team. But the fact is: life is not a picnic."

Austria's failings in Group D to date make sure that tomorrow's game is vital to their hopes.

Lose to Ireland and they are out - seven points adrift of the Irish, at least four points behind Serbia and in danger of having Georgia nibble away at them in terms of finishing in the bottom two in the group.

Even a draw will do little for Austria. Win and they are back in the race, with the hope that they can see out the rest of the campaign with the sort of swagger which qualified them for Euro 2016 and saw some figures tip Austria as dark horses for the tournament.

"We are not going to speculate. We are going for a win.

"If we bring our quality to the pitch, we'll get away with the three points," added Junuzovic when asked what his side need in Dublin.

With seven goals in 52 caps, the 29-year-old midfielder is, worryingly for them, one of the top scorers in their squad.

Deprived of Marc Janko and Marko Arnautovic (a tasty 43 international goals between them), there is a real poverty in attacking play in the Austrian side that assembled in Dublin today.

They have to rely on a mixture of kids, rookies and squad players, with a three-man strike force who have, between them, yet to score for Austria.

How they yearn for the days when pony-tailed maestro Toni Polster could score goals for fun against teams like Ireland.

Valentin Lazaro (7 caps) and Florian Kainz (2) will probably be asked to start against an experienced Ireland outfit and with a weakened side on the field and poor options on the bench, it could be a case of hope and pray for the Austrian boss.

Roy Keane yesterday tried to play down the talk about problems in the Austria camp, though many have pointed out that a player missing this game so he can get married is something that would not happen in Ireland.

Well, not on the watch of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. A player who skipped a World Cup qualifier, which he was guaranteed to play in, so he could get married would not expect to be capped again in the reign of the manager at the time.

But, should he lose tomorrow, the Austrian boss will not be in the job for much longer.

Austria (probable): Lindner (Eintracht Frankfurt); Dragovic (Bayer Leverkusen), Prödl (Watford), Hinteregger (Augsburg); Lazaro (Red Bull Salzburg), Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen), Junuzovic (Werder Bremen), Alaba (Bayern Munich); Harnik (Hannover), Burgstaller (Schalke), Kainz (Werder Bremen).

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