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Saturday 16 December 2017

Job on the line for Koller ahead of big Dublin test

Austria head coach Marcel Koller, is pictured during training in Suedstadt ahead of Sunday’s qualifier. Photo: Reuters
Austria head coach Marcel Koller, is pictured during training in Suedstadt ahead of Sunday’s qualifier. Photo: Reuters

A defeat to Austria in a World Cup qualifier finished off Giovanni Trapattoni as Ireland manager.

Now, four years on, the boot's on the other foot as the manager of the Austrian national team will, almost certainly, lose his job should the Austrians lose to Ireland in Dublin.

If Marcel Koller was already under pressure after a poor return of seven points from five games (they had 13 points on board five games into the qualifiers for Euro 2016, a sign of how far they have fallen behind), a rash of withdrawals has left him with a weakened squad for Saturday's flight to Dublin.

They are missing a goalkeeper, one of their main midfielders, their Premier League-based talisman and, with the late withdrawal of veteran striker Marc Janko, have lost one of their main outlets in terms of scoring goals.

Koller was grilled about his own future, or the lack of a future as national team boss should the side lose to Ireland, after a training session in Vienna yesterday.

The Austrian squad are pictured in training yesterday in preparation for their clash with Ireland at the Aviva. Photo: Reuters
The Austrian squad are pictured in training yesterday in preparation for their clash with Ireland at the Aviva. Photo: Reuters

"That's not something to think about. The only focus is the preparation for the game," he said. "This is a game we want to win, but if we can't win it we can take at least a point."

Impressive

Well he would say that, wouldn't he? The Swiss-born coach of the Austrian side was indeed a hero in Vienna and its environs for his feat in leading the side, in an impressive way, through qualifying for Euro 2016 but they struggled on the fields of France and in subsequent games.

Sunday is vital for the Austrians. Lose and they will be seven points behind Ireland and at least four behind Serbia. Instead of looking for a place at the 2018 World Cup finals, Austria will be looking down the table, hoping that Georgia (who should win away to a poor Moldova side on Sunday) could even catch them and push the Austrians into the bottom two in the table.

The pressure is on and the question is how they can deal with that.

"I think we are aware, that we have a little bit of pressure. But I think we can cope with that," says David Alaba, the Bayern Munich player who stands out as the only world-class player in an otherwise ordinary Austrian squad.

The Austrians have problems all over the park. Ireland's recent results are not all that impressive on paper but Austria have also been ordinary. Look at their results one way and they are decent, unbeaten in three games (since that defeat to Ireland in Vienna).

They've kept just two clean sheets in the last 15 games (although to their credit, one of those games was a 0-0 draw with eventual-champions Portugal at Euro 2016) and the lack of an experience keeper is a worry.

Slide

They also fret about where the goals will spring from. Veteran Janko is no spring chicken (now 33) and with his recent move from Champions League regulars Basel to Sparta Prague, his career is clearly on the slide.

But with 28 goals in 63 games, he has a good record (only four players have scored more goals for the national team) and the players left behind in the squad have struggled to find the net.

The three strikers in Koller's squad for Sunday's game (Guido Burgstaller, Michael Gregoritsch and Deni Alar) have, between them, just 12 senior caps. And zero goals.

"We are missing some players, but this is a chance for other players to come in," says Koller, hoping that his squad players can somehow up their game to combat an Ireland side who looked inferior to Mexico (17th in the world) in New Jersey last week but were more on their game at home to Uruguay (ranked 16th in the world) a few days later.

Some figures in the game there have wondered why Austria did not arrange a friendly to prepare for this game. Even Georgia, with financial resources far inferior to those on offer in Vienna, managed to get in a game, against St Kitts and Nevis yesterday, to prepare for their weekend date with Moldova.

"We will be prepared in every way so we can go and win," says Koller. Not many believe him.

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