Much more to Austria than Bayern boy Alaba at Euro 2016
Simon Sinclair | March 28, 2016
Austria produced outstanding football during their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to reach their first major tournament in eight years.
Marcel Koller’s side blew their rivals in Group G away by winning nine matches on the spin to secure their place at the France finals.
Despite their dominant form during qualifying, the Alpine nation have outside odds of 33/1 to win the competition for the first time in their history.
How Austria reached the finals
Koller’s men were placed in a group with Russia, Sweden and Montenegro, who were all expected to battle for the top two spots, while minnows Liechtenstein and Moldova made up the numbers.
Their campaign got off to a solid start with a 1-1 draw against Sweden, while they then narrowly edged past Moldova and Montenegro by one-goal margins.
Austria’s first major statement of qualifying came in Vienna when a 73rd-minute strike from Rubin Okotie secured a 1-0 win over Russia.
A 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein solidified their position in top spot before the Alpine nation completed a famous double against Russia, which resulted in the resignation of Fabio Capello.
Following a straightforward win over Moldova, Koller’s side knew that three points against Sweden would seal their place in France.
Austria answered the call with a 4-1 hammering of the Scandinavian outfit thanks to goals from Martin Harnik, David Alaba and Marc Janko.
By sealing their place at the competition the squad became the first Austrian players to earn their spot at a major tournament through qualifying since the 1998 World Cup, having been the joint-host nation in Euro 2008.
At the time qualifying, Alaba revealed his delight at sealing their place in the finals, telling reporters: “It’s something special when you write history.”
The question now for the Bayern Munich man along with his international teammates is; can they create further history in France?
Alaba the key to success
The 23-year-old will be the pivotal player for the Alpine nation in the tournament by attempting to control the middle of the park.
Alaba has incredible versatility which has proven to be a huge asset at club level for Bayern and manager Pep Guardiola, where he has operated at left back and centre back.
His energy marauding forward down the flank has created ample opportunities for the German side and allowed Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller to profit on his creativity.
Defensively, Alaba has been stout due to his strength and tackling ability, shutting down the right side of the pitch to his opponents.
The quality of his displays for Bayern have seen him heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the summer to join Guardiola at the Etihad.
Koller opted to play the 23-year-old as a defensive midfielder during qualifying, where Alaba has confessed he prefers to operate.
His ability to protect the back four along with providing ammunition for the frontline makes it essential for the him to be on his game in France otherwise it could be an early exit.
Should he live up to his potential and Austria maintain their impressive form they could be a plucky challenger for the title.
Alaba displayed great composure during qualifying from the penalty spot, notching three of his four strikes from 12 yards. How often have penalties played a crucial role in this tournament? A fact not to be overlooked!
Defence to remain solid
Austria’s backline was the foundation they build their platform to secure a place in the finals, keeping six clean sheets in their 10 matches.
Koller managed to keep a consistent back four throughout the qualifying campaign, including skipper Christian Fuchs who has performed at a very high standard for club and country over the past year.
The left back has been a crucial part of Leicester City’s surge towards the Premier League title this season, while he has also displayed his quality at international level by solidifying the flank.
Fuchs has also managed to raid forward from the back, providing three assists during the campaign as well as showing strong leadership on the field to the younger players in the lineup.
Dynamo Kiev’s Aleksandar Dragovic and Martin Hinteregger anchored the middle of the defence for the majority of the 10 matches.
Dragovic has been a strong performer for Koller’s men and continued his fine form for the Ukrainian side in their push to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where they were beaten by Manchester City.
His displays have touted the 25-year-old with a switch to the Premier League in the near future, and a solid performance at the Euros could well be his ticket to secure a move to the English top flight.
Hinteregger ousted the experienced Sebastian Prodl during the qualifiers due to his exploits for Salzburg, which has now secured him a move to the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach.
The 23-year-old is an exciting prospect and formed a good understanding at the back with Dragovic to keep Prodl and his vast experience out of the starting lineup, although an injury did allow the Watford man to play the final three matches of the campaign.
Austria have a plethora of options at the back without Tottenham’s Kevin Wimmer, who like at White Hart Lane has found regular playing time hard to come by. The 23-year-old displays the quality of depth Koller will enter the tournament with in defence.
The Alpine nation can look no further than the Greece team of Euro 2004, who conceded only four goals in their seven matches, than how to use a strong backline to inspire the team to the European crown.
Can Janko keep up his scoring form?
Janko was in fine fettle for Koller’s men during their qualifying campaign, scoring seven goals in nine appearances.
The 32-year-old has an impressive record at international averaging better a goal in every other game in his 51 caps.
He has had a journeyman career over the past six years, playing for six clubs, which has included spells for Twente, Porto and Sydney FC.
Currently plying his trade for Basel, the forward has enjoyed a good season in front of goal, although he has only notched four strikes since the turn of the year.
Janko provides a challenge for all defenders due to his imposing 6ft 5in frame and his ability to hold the ball in the final allows him to bring his teammates into play in slow-building attacks.
The forward is a perfect option for a defensive minded side due to his clinical edge in front of goal, which makes him an interesting punt to lead the competition at odds of 40/1.
Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic is not a player to sleep on in the tournament either following his impressive campaign for the Potters.
The 26-year-old has proved to a bargain for Mark Hughes’s men, costing just £2m when signed from Werder Bremen in 2013.
He enjoyed a solid start to his time in the English top flight, but has hit his stride this season by scoring 10 goals in just 28 appearances.
Arnautovic is a tricky customer for opposing defenders due to his size and strength, while he also has great skill with the ball at his feet.
The forward may view the Euros as the chance to pursue a move to a Champions League club, and may be worth an outside bet at 100/1 to be one of the surprises of the tournament to rack up the goals.