As ever, the advantage of qualifying automatically as tournament hosts is counteracted by the disadvantage of a limited campaign of preparation. This has affected Austria, who are staging the finals jointly with neighbours Switzerland. Coach Josef Hickersberger, faced with a series of friendlies, sensed there would be difficulties as he set about trying to reconstruct Austria’s fortunes, and the feeling was soon confirmed.
After losing his first three games, a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica was followed by a much-needed win, albeit only a 2-1 success against minnows Liechtenstein through a late Thomas Prager goal. A 2-1 victory over Switzerland was more of a morale-booster and Rene Aufhauser hit a hat-trick in a 4-1 success against Trinidad & Tobago in October 2006. Yet it was another year — and ten games — before Austria won again, beating Ivory Coast 3-2.
Austria face a mammoth task in trying to progress beyond the group stage as they face Germany, who beat them 3-0 in February, England’s conquerors Croatia, and Poland. The Poles defeated Austria twice in qualifying for the last World Cup. Like Austria, they are the only other nation competing in the European Championship finals for the first time.
There was some encouragement for Austria in a dramatic game against Holland in Vienna in March, when they raced into a 3-0 lead through Andreas Ivanschitz and a Sebastian Prodl double, only to collapse to a 4-3 defeat. The Austrians are lacking major tournament experience – they last appeared in the finals of a competition ten years ago at the World Cup in France. Their best performance in the European Championship was when they just missed out on the inaugural four-team final tournament of 1960.
Austria’s hopes rest largely on the shoulders of Andreas Ivanschitz. Hailed as Austria’s answer to David Beckham, the captain is the man who makes the midfield tick. He is widely regarded as the best player to emerge from his country since record cap-holder Andreas Herzog. Formerly with Rapid Vienna and SV Salzburg, and now in Greece at Panathinaikos.
Emanuel Pogatetz is also likely to play a key role. The Middlesbrough defender has grown in stature and maturity since his £1.8m move from Bayer Leverkusen in 2005. Earned the nickname “Mad Dog” from his Boro teammates due to his fearless approach, but has learned to harness that quality and was rewarded with the Riverside captaincy.
Austria Euro 08 Squad
Head coach: Josef Hickersberger
Back to Euro 2008 Squads.
More Euro 2008 Information.