Euro 2020 preview, Group C – Austria: Tom Middler on what to expect from Austria
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Tom Middler gives us his take on Austria…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
This summer will mark Austria’s third appearance at the European Championshps, and they should be riding high after only their second successful qualification campaign (they co-hosted in 2008 and therefore skipped qualifying).
In Franco Foda they also have one of their most successful managers ever, at least on paper; but in reality, the fans have yet to warm to this Austria side’s conservative playing style and following their biggest ever home defeat in their last competitive fixture [0-4 against Denmark] hopes are not high for Austria at Euro 2020.
The nation’s supporters haven’t been able to celebrate a single victory in tournament football since Italia ‘90, and after the pressure of expectation weighed them down at Euro 2016, even a relatively tame group looks like a tough proposition for a side with serious confidence issues.
In the likes of Marcel Sabitzer and Christoph Baumgartner there are talented players plying their trade in good team but Austria desperately need to let the handbrake off if they want to gather enough momentum to go far this time around.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
Austria’s last two European qualification campaigns have been founded on the basis of a solid defensive-midfield core.
With the experienced Julian Baumgartlinger keeping things tight ahead of a rotating but highly-disciplined back four marshalled by the excellent Martin Hinteregger, “Das National team” have earned a reputation as being a tough side to break down.
Given the lack of a definitive danger man in front of goal, Austria have relied upon that defensive stability to grind out narrow but vital wins in several qualifiers of late, and they’ve been rewarded with a second successive trip to the finals.
And any weaknesses?
Franco Foda’s reliance on the ‘double 6’ in midfield has delivered the goods, if not the glamour of attacking football, and it’s here that Austria’s Achilles’ heel lies.
With creative freedom abandoned in favour of functionality, the goal threat in the team has dropped off, something which leaves Austria in deep trouble if they fall behind against high quality opposition. Given that the team selection is often intended to provide a rigid core, Austria’s ability to react to adversity is a problem that will need solving this summer.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
Despite talents burgeoning elsewhere in the squad, David Alaba remains the team’s star player. Alaba has won almost everything there is to win at club level in more than a decade at Bayern Munich, and he’s been named Austria’s Footballer of the Year an incredible seven times.
His natural home at Bayern was the left back position, but finding the right place on the field for Alaba to demonstrate his considerable talents is another challenge for the coach, and will his lengthy contract-wrangling in the off-season [Alaba is joining Real Madrid] distract him at the Euros?
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
With Marko Arnautovic no longer in his prime, Austria could do with a new stand-out striker, and they might just have found their man in Stuttgart’s Sasa Kalajdzic.
The 23-year-old has been a revelation since his move to Germany, overcoming a serious injury to net 16 times this season and propel promoted Stuttgart well up the table. He may only have a handful of international caps to his name, but his three goals in Austria’s recent set of fixtures have certainly cranked up the expectation levels for Kalajdzic, who could be a big transfer target after the tournament.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
Group C is likely to involve a bruising battle for the spots behind probable table-toppers the Netherlands, but with second and (possibly) third place expected to face off against the likes of Italy, Portugal or Germany in the Round of 16, it’s hard to imagine Austria going further than that at Euro 2020.
After the blow of finishing bottom in their 2016 group, Austria will be feeling the pressure when they walk out for a must-win opener against North Macedonia in Bucharest. If they can get that elusive tournament-level win under their belts, passage to the Round of 16 should be a formality given the talent on offer in Franco Foda’s squad, but if not, they could be looking at more disappointment and another early exit.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
France should prove unstoppable, but Germany’s Gnabry could win the Golden Boot.