Depleted squad proving a real problem for Austria boss Koller

Six players who faced Ireland in Vienna last November are unavailable this time

There must have been times in these past few weeks when Marcel Koller was tempted to switch off his phone, the Austrian manager bedevilled by news of withdrawals from his squad as he prepares for Sunday’s critical World Cup qualifier in Dublin.

When striker Marc Janko was ruled out of the game on Wednesday with tonsillitis, that brought to six the number of players who featured in November’s defeat to Ireland in Vienna who are unavailable for the return fixture.

Apart from Janko, who joined Sparta Prague from Basel on Tuesday, Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic and RB Leipzig’s Stefan Ilsanker are both suspended for the game, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan has retired from international football and midfielder Alessandro Schoepf ruptured a knee ligament while playing for Schalke last month.

The curious enough reason for forward Marcel Sabitzer’s absence, as provided by his club RB Leipzig, is that he slipped at home, fell on glass and injured his arm.  Koller, then, has plenty of gaps to plug, the goalkeeping position especially challenging. Austria Vienna’s Robert Almer began the campaign as his first choice but he ruptured a cruciate ligament back in October.


Ozcan stepped in and played against Serbia and Ireland. After he withdrew from the squad, Heinz Lindner played in March’s win at home to Moldova, becoming the third goalkeeper used in five games.

Lindner, though, barely played at all for Eintracht Frankfurt in the last two seasons and has just been released by the club. If Koller had been tempted to go with Lindner’s understudy Andreas Lukse instead, he can’t – a calf strain has put Lukse out of action.

Up front, too, Koller is now short of choices, the uncapped Dani Alar (Sturm Graz) called up to replace Janko who would most likely have started on Sunday, vying with Guido Burgstaller (Schalke) and Michael Gregoitrsch (Hamburg) for a place in the starting line-up. Burgstaller and Gregoitrsch have 12 caps between them but have yet to score an international goal.

Club football

In defence, Koller had been searching for a replacement at left-back following the retirement from international football of Leicester City’s Christian Fuchs after Euro 2016, with David Alaba preferring now to play in midfield.

One option was Markus Suttner, but he too announced he was focusing only on club football, so Koller called up Red Bull Salzburg’s Andreas Ulmer only to be told, as has been rather well documented, that Ulmer was unavailable because he was getting married.

“That’s very unfortunate planning,” said the manager, who stopped short of wishing the happy couple well. “Playing for the national team obviously has no priority to him.”

Koller is on a salary of €1.3 million – he’ll feel like he’s earned it in the last month alone.

On a more uplifting note for the former Swiss international, his star man Alaba has declared himself fit after recovering from a knee injury. The Bayern Munich player has a particular fondness for playing Ireland – he equalised in injury time in Dublin in their World Cup 2014 qualifier, and scored the winner in the return game in Austria.

Captain Julian Baumgartlinger, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, is also available having missed Austria’s last qualifier against Moldova through suspension.

But with just seven points from their five qualifying games so far, leaving them four adrift of Ireland and Serbia, the Austrians are some way short of the form that saw them cruise to qualification for Euro 2016 with nine wins and a draw from their 10 games. Once they got to France, though, that form deserted them, defeats by Hungary and Switzerland, with a scoreless draw with eventual winners Portugal in between, leaving them bottom of their group.

Defeat in Dublin would increase the pressure on Koller, who’s been busy batting off talk of an unhappy camp all week. And comments made to the Austria Press Agency by Leo Windtner, president of the country’s football association, won’t have helped ease concerns about his job security, Windtner refusing to contemplate the “horror” of losing to Ireland. Would Koller’s job be safe if the team failed to qualify for the World Cup? “I do not want to surmise what would happen if we did not make it,” he said.

As votes of confidence go, that one isn’t up there with the most reassuring.