A 1-1 draw with Sweden on the opening night of the qualifying campaign must have left a few fans a little concerned about their chances but Austria never looked back, winning their remaining games to coast into the finals with the second highest points tally. In Stockholm they showed how much better than the Swedes they really were and they also beat Russia home and away, something that suggests they won’t be overly intimidated by any of these initial outings. Irish fans will remember David Alaba all too well from a couple of campaigns back but there is plenty of other talent in the side with Marc Janko bagging seven goals thanks, in part at least, to good support work by the likes of Mark Arnautovic and Bosnian born Werder Bremen midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic. They’re not bad at the back either with Christian Fuchs amongst those to have had a good season at club level. In short it’s all a long, long way from 2008 when they co-hosted the tournament but were really poor. In fact, they have not got beyond the group stages of a tournament since 1982 but it will be a major disappointment if they don’t do at least that this time. Finishing first would mean a trip to Toulouse and a meeting with the runners up from Ireland’s group.
How they qualified
Very, very impressively. After drawing 1-1 at home to Sweden in their opening game, Austria simply blitzed Group G by winning every single match. The highlight was a 4-1 demolition of Sweden in Solna when David Alaba in particular destroyed the home side on the break. It will be interesting to see whether or not they can maintain that sort of form in France but, with a favourable enough draw in Group F, they will fancy their chances.
Manager: Marcel Koller
The former Switzerland midfielder, who spent his entire career with hometown club Grasshoppers, has been in charge of Austria since 2011. After being sacked by both Cologne and Bochum in Germany he took a break from management to study coaching techniques. That led to his appointment as Austria manager and his study seems to have paid off as he continues to work wonders with a squad that doesn’t look particularly special on paper.
Star man: David Alaba
Familiar to Ireland fans after his long range strike at Lansdowne Road ended hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, David Alaba has quickly made himself a regular in the Bayern Munich team at the age of just 23. Although he plays a deeper wing-back role for his club, the Austrian is given full licence to roam at international level and does so devastatingly with trademark mazy runs and thunderous long range shots.
One to watch: Marc Janko
The 6ft 5in veteran striker looked to be approaching the end of his international playing days when he made the move to the sunny climbs of Sydney FC in 2014. However, his career has since been revitalised by this new, highly energised Austria squad. Despite having to travel from Australia for the opening six qualifying games, Janko still managed to net seven goals and earn himself a move back to Europe in the way of FC Basel. Since joining the Swiss club he has scored 16 times in just 20 appearances. His height and eye for goal, combined with the pinpoint crosses of Alaba, make this Austria side very dangerous.
Goalkeepers: Robert Almer (Austria Vienna), Heinz Lindner (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ramazan Ozcan (Ingolstadt).
Defenders: Aleksandar Dragovic (Dinamo Kiev), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Martin Hinteregger (Borussia Monchengladbach), Florian Klein (Stuttgart), Sebastian Prodl (Watford), Markus Suttner (Ingolstadt), Kevin Wimmer (Tottenham Hotspur).
Midfielders: David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Julian Baumgartlinger (Mainz), Gyorgy Garics (Darmstadt), Stefan Ilsanker (Leipzig), Jakob Jantscher (Luzern), Zlatko Junuzovic (Werder Bremen), Alessandro Schopf (Schalke).
Forwards: Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Martin Harnik (Stuttgart), Lukas Hinterseer (Ingolstadt), Marc Janko (Basel), Rubin Okotie (1860 Munich), Marcel Sabitzer (Leipzig)
What President Trump says...
“Why would I care about Austria? Austria is just Germany with less money. I don’t need Austria in my life and neither do you.”