Why Austria think it's "really good" that Shane Long won't be lining out for Ireland in Vienna

Team 33's Raf Diallo chats to Austrian journalist Fabian Zerche about Saturday's World Cup qualifier

BY Raf Diallo 14:12 Thursday 10 November 2016, 14:12 10 Nov 2016

Republic of Ireland's Shane Long and Christian Fuch of Austria in 2013 ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

On the eve of Euro 2016, there was a buzz around Austria and a golden generation of players that seemed capable of getting out of a group featuring Portugal, Iceland and Hungary.

Ultimately, all three sides finished above Marcel Koller's men in France and spectacularly so.

While Austria managed to pick up a single draw with a backs-to-the-wall result against eventual champions Portugal, surprise quarter-finalists Iceland and a not-so-fancied Hungary team all made it out of the group.

Like Ireland, who managed to make it to the last-16, Austria's attentions are now turned to the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

As we go head-to-head in Vienna in the fourth round of group fixtures, Martin O'Neill's side are three points clear of an Austria team that have drawn at home with Wales, lost away to Serbia and edged out Georgia away.

But what can we expect from David Alaba, Marko Arnautovic and co?

I got the thoughts of Austrian football journalist Fabian Zerche ahead of Saturday's qualifier, who has a theory about why Euro 2016 didn't work out.

You can listen to the full chat with Fabian on the podcast player or iTunes:

"I think the Austrian team got hyped too much based on the results in the qualifiers," he tells me.

Austria coach Marcel Koller ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

"No one really put into perspective that the opponents in the qualification group like Sweden, Russian, Montenegro and so on were fading teams actually and in bad form, and not really a benchmark for top quality football.

"Also many key players weren't in good form and got slight injuries in the weeks before the Euros."

Interestingly though, in a world where managers are often scapegoated when results decline, Austria have kept faith with Marcel Koller despite the poor Euro 2016 and slow start to the 2018 qualifiers.

That's because memories are still fresh of the dark pre-Koller period when Austria failed to play in a major tournament apart from Euro 2008 which they co-hosted with Switzerland.

"He's very well respected in Austria and so no one really blames him because of the bad results before him. So they said 'yeah, let's give him another chance,'" says Fabian, who adds that the only criticism of him in Austria at present is that he hasn't changed his approach much in terms of tactics and team selection.

The key player known on a global level of course is Bayern Munich's David Alaba, who is one of the world's leading full-backs at club level, yet lines up as a midfield playmaker for country.

And that positional debate is perhaps akin to the way Wes Hoolahan's status is argued over between pundits on our shores, or previous to that, Andy Reid etc

In the case of Alaba, Fabian explains: "Many don't [feel he lives up to expectations] because there is always this intense discussion in Austria about if Alaba should play left-back, especially since Christian Fuchs from Leicester retired, or should he play in midfield. For me personally, he should always play midfield. But many don't think so and he's very much criticised because I think the expectations are too big and he isn't that super, super world class player who decides games on his own."

Austria's Marko Arnautovic (left) and David Alaba during the training session at the Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna. Picture by John Walton PA Wire/PA Images

Well, apart from one World Cup qualifier on a cold, Dublin night in 2013 which I went to between Ireland and Austria when he scored a last minute equaliser.

Marko Arnautovic's goalscoring form for Stoke has also picked up at a similar rate as it has for Austria and for Fabian, the attacker is finding consistency after being scrutinised in a way that Alaba would recognise.

"He's probably the key player in the attack at the moment. He's always cutting inside and shooting. Like against Serbia, he missed a couple of good chances. But he's probably the key man and he actually really performs in every game for Austria," he says.

Arnautovic is a guaranteed starter but like Ireland in the build-up to Saturday's game, the effects of injuries have been keenly felt.

"Zlatko Junuzovic, the playmaker from Werder Bremen, is out injured. Also the No 1 goalkeeper Robert Almer, which is a huge blow. So you're probably going to see Schalke's Alessandro Schöpf instead of Junuzovic and he's in better shape at the moment anyway, so it's not too bad," says Fabian, who also feels that it is a toss-up whether the right flank will be occupied by Martin Harnik or Marcel Sabitzer.

Austrian soccer team poses prior to the World Cup Group D qualifying match between Serbia and Austria at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Players are, from left to right, front row: Aleksandar Dragovic, Julian Baumgartlinger, Zlatko Junuzovic, Florian Klein and Marcel Sabitzer; and in the back row: David Alaba, goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan, Marc Janko, Martin Hinteregger, Kevin Wimmer and Marko Arnautovic. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

The Austrian home fans are looking forward to the influx of Irish supporters to Vienna after viewing them fondly at Euro 2016. But are they looking forward to their chances of beating Ireland?

"I think it's really good for Austria that Shane Long is out. That's very good for Austria because Austria struggles massively in defence in the last games especially against Serbia and Georgia," Fabian says, adding that Arnautovic's club colleague Jonathan Walters is also seen as a tough opponent from his own point of view.

And with the Boys in Green likely to pose more a physical rather than technical threat, Fabian believes that could play into Austrian hands.

"I always have a feeling that Austria does a bit better against physical teams like Wales or Ireland than technical ones. Austria will have lots of possession and I think it will be either a draw or a win for Austria."

You can follow Fabian on Twitter at @FabianZerche.


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