After years of frustration and – if everyone concerned is honest – boredom, Austria are back in the public eye. This is only their second European Championship and first for which they have qualified in their own right, having co-hosted in 2008 only to fall at the group stage. It has been a turgid couple of decades but Marcel Koller’s side showed flickers of life in a decent World Cup qualifying campaign and were then superb in reaching Euro 2016 with a record only bettered by England. This is a smooth footballing side that packs genuine punch and they will have valid ‘dark horse’ status in France.
THE BIG QUESTION
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Are Austria Europe’s latest emerging power? It is a long time since they were mentioned among the continent’s greats but perhaps they can follow Belgium in harnessing a gifted talent pool – including a number of second-generation immigrants – and setting foundations for the future. They should have little problem emerging from Group E; the permutations are many after that and it would be fair to point out that Austria are inexperienced in tense matches against top opposition, but there is a palpable upwards mobility and it would be little surprise to see them in the last eight – at least.
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Austria benefit from a fairly settled starting line-up, with the only doubts really centring over the quality of those who might replace any injured or suspended parties. Julian Baumgartlinger will be expected to cover for David Alaba as he roams forwards while Zlatko Junuzovic, Martin Harnik and Marko Arnautovic offer creative, inventive support for centre-forward Marc Janko, a 32-year-old who has a fine one-in-two record for his country. It is an attacking, mobile side with the ability to change system if required, although they must careful not to be caught on the counter.
THE MANAGER: MARCEL KOLLER
Austria's head coach Marcel Koller presented the Austrian team.
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Koller made his name as a player in the Swiss national team, appearing at Euro ’96 shortly before his retirement. He commenced a successful career in management after that, eventually spending four years with German side VfL Bochum before his sacking in 2009. He did not seem an obvious candidate to take Austria back to the top but they have steadily improved since his appointment in October 2011 and nobody now doubts the excellent job Koller, a studious figure in the dugout, has performed.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Austria's Marcel Koller (L) and David Alaba celebrate
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David Alaba: The Bayern Munich player operates as a wonderfully quick-thinking, fluid central midfielder for his country and sets a slick tempo from deep. A good performance this summer would cement his reputation as a world class operator who is still just 23.
Christian Fuchs: Things could not have gone much better for Fuchs of late. The Austria captain shone at left-back in his first, remarkable season for Leicester City and, at 30, could probably have his pick of Europe’s top clubs if he wanted. He will be a threat bombing up the flank.
Marko Arnautovic: There is a touch of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic about Arnautovic, a swaggering forward with a mixed past and sumptuous talent. He has in fact proved a diligent worker for Stoke City along with his flourishes of skill, and is certainly capable of changing the course of a game this summer.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
It has to be Fuchs, largely for his #NoFuchsGiven hashtag but also to relive some of his celebration videos from that Leicester title win. Even to the neutral, they will never get old
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The key to their attacking is down the left of their 4-2-3-1, where Fuchs links up with Arnautovic and Alaba. A full-back for his club, Alaba is a roaming deep-lying playmaker for his country, with Julian Baumgartlinger offering cover.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Austria produced a breathtaking performance in Group G, drawing their first match at home to Sweden but not dropping a single point thereafter and topping the pile by a huge eight points from Russia. Their early 1-0 win over the Russians showed they meant business and when they repeated the feat in Moscow last June, Marc Janko scoring the winner, qualification was within sight. The best was yet to come: a thrilling performance in Stockholm, winning 4-1, was the highlight of their campaign and marked them out as a threat to be taken very seriously this summer.
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