Jonathan Walters likely to captain Ireland against Austria

Martin O’Neill is aware that Austria’s back up players are well able to step up to the mark

Martin O'Neill insists that he is not underestimating Austria because his opposite number, Marcus Koller, is handicapped ahead Sunday's World Cup qualifier by the loss of several regaulars to injury or suspension.

“Naturally I expect a really tough game,” said the Ireland manager at his pre-match press conference. “I think that to begin with Austria would have been one of the favourites to go through from the group and they might be a little bit disappointed so far with some of the points that they left on the field.

“They are probably disappointed that they lost to us at home and they will be doing everything they can to put that right. But they had a good win against Moldova and it seems as though they are back on track”.

O'Neill has no new injury concerns after the week's preparations but he gave little away regarding his starting line up for the game. Jon Walters attended the press conference with him, suggesting that the Stoke City striker may captain the side. That is not certain, although he is pretty much a sure thing to start while the manager referred to Cyrus Christie deputising for Seamus Coleman when pointing out that the visitors are not the only ones to be missing players.


"We have some exceptional players missing," he said. "Seamus Coleman is one of the best full backs in European football so that's a blow to us. Cyrus Christie will take his place. Shane Long is missing, so that's a blow. So we have a couple of problems.

“These things happen and Austria have the manpower to overcome those things. We played against Wales a couple of months ago when Wales were at full strength and we weren’t. Things like that happen. Players are missing.”

His hope, he said, is that his players impose themselves on the game from the outset, something that Ireland teams have often struggled to do. “We really have to start strongly in the game,” he said. “We are at home and have to take the game to Austria, be really positive right from the start. Austria have the capability to cause us all sorts of problems so we have to be on the front foot if we can but also aware of their players.

“It’s a big three points for both countries,” he continued. “Now we are getting to the half-way stage, tomorrow starts the second half of the tournament for us and we just have to try to grab these points. But if we’ve done our utmost then there’s not a lot more I can ask.”

Walters suggests that the players will be wary of some of those Koller drafts in as replacements for his absent regulars. He said his Stoke City teammate Marko Arnautovic is a big loss for the visitors but he said: "Sometimes it's the players who are sitting in the background but are a little bit unknown who are dangerous. We saw it ourselves against Wales when we were depleted but put in a big performance."

The 33 year-old acknowledged that winning the game is hugely important for Ireland but dismissed the notion that the team might start to feel they already have put Austria completely out of the reckoning if they can take all three points.

“We know that if we win tomorrow the gap will be bigger,” he said, “but we’ve tough games to play, Serbia are still to come here. We’ve been on the other end of that equation and we came back in the last campaign. We’ll reassess come tomorrow evening whatever happens but there’s a long way to go.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times