Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland take on Austria on Saturday, looking to stay unbeaten in the race for World Cup qualification.
Ireland have picked up seven points from a possible nine in their opening three games and while the performances have sometimes been a worry, the results so far have been as good as they could have expected.
Austria, on the other hand, are in trouble. Already three points behind their visitors on Saturday evening, they are fully aware that a second defeat relatively early into the campaign, and in a group that is likely to be incredibly tight, would be detrimental to their chances of qualifying for Russia in two years.
Both sides have mounting injury problems heading into the clash. Ireland, already without Shane Long and Daryl Murphy, subsequently lost James McCarthy, Stephen Ward, Stephen Quinn, Eunan O’Kane and Cyrus Christie from the original squad. James McClean and John O’Shea are touch-and-go right now also.
However, things aren’t so rosy in the Austrian camp either. Defender Sebastian Prodl and midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic have both withdrawn from the squad, while injury to usual first-choice goalkeeper Robert Almer means Bayer Leverkusen understudy Ramazan Ozcan will continue in goal.
Likely Starting Lineups:
With Ireland having to adjust to a number of injuries, O’Neill has a few alternatives he could choose from. The wild card of course would be starting one of Callum O’Dowda or Daryl Horgan, but this is the lineup that he should probably go for.
Austria, meanwhile will also have to adjust to a couple of withdrawals. Junozovic started in the recent 3-2 defeat at Serbia (with Prodl coming on as a sub) though with Martin Harnik returning to the squad the upheaval will at least be somewhat limited. As such, Marcel Koller could go with something like:
Ozcan, Klein, Dragovic, Hinterigger, Wimmer, Baumgartlinger, Alaba, Sabitzer, Harnik, Arnautovic, Janko
FIFA World Ranking: 30 (down 4 from October)
The last year has seen one disappointment after another for Austria. When these sides last met (in Giovanni Trapattoni’s last match in charge of Ireland) in 2013, this was a team very much on the ascendancy. David Alaba was clearly pulling the strings there but under Koller there they were starting to build something.
Their storming run to Euro 2016 built on that foundation, winning nine and drawing one in a group that contained Russia and Sweden.
However, their performance at the tournament itself was little short of shambolic. A 0-0 draw with eventual champions Portugal was sandwiched between defeats to Hungary and Iceland, as many peoples’ dark horses crashed out in the group stage.
Their start to this qualification campaign has been somewhat rocky also, an opening day win against Georgia was followed up with a draw at home to Wales and defeat to Serbia to leave them on four points from three games.
As ever, they will be looking to David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic for the moments of magic, captain Julian Baumgartlinger to boss the midfield, and veteran striker Marc Janko to provide the goals.
Koller knows that a win tonight is absolutely essential.
The Head-To-Head Record:
Ireland’s record against Austria doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading. The Boys in Green have played against the Austrians on fourteen occasions – and won just two of them. In fact, their record against Austria is their worst against any side they have faced more than five times (even their record against Brazil is better), with a win rate of just over 14%.
At the risk of dampening the mood further, Ireland’s record in Vienna reads: P7 W0 D1 L6
Last Five Meetings:
- Austria 1-0 Ireland (Euro 1972 Qualifier), 10th October 1971
- Ireland 1-3 Austria (Euro 1996 Qualifier), 11th June 1995
- Austria 3-1 Ireland (Euro 1996 Qualifier), 6th September 1995
- Ireland 2-2 Austria (World Cup 2014 Qualifier), 26th March 2013
- Austria 2-0 Ireland (World Cup 2014 Qualifier), 10th September 2013
O’Neill has already stated that a draw would be a good result for his side in Vienna, so don’t expect anything too adventurous from the manager. Austria, however, need the win to get their campaign back on track and avoid losing touch with the leaders. In doing so they risk being caught on the counter-attack, but that depends on the wingers Ireland select.
As is the case with most Ireland matches, this could be on course for a dogged 1-1 draw.