The Austrian View - Speaking with Fabian Zerche
We chatted to Austrian football journalist Fabian Zerche (@FabianZerche), football writer for Sportsnet.at, about our November visit to Vienna and the shaky start to qualifying.
TOJ: After a low-key performance at this summer's Euros, what is the current mood in the Austrian camp?
FZ: The mood is not good, the team were over-hyped by their results in EURO 2016 qualification without putting into perspective the quality of our opponents. The Euros were a reality check for the team.
TOJ: What have you made of Austria's start to World Cup qualification?
FZ: It has been weird, somehow. For me the worst result so far was the 2-1 win over Georgia, as we let them have many quality chances, but somehow got away with a win. The draw with Wales was good- Austria dominated, but were a little unlucky. The Serbia game was a defensive horror show, we missed chances and we now know that the group will be very tight.
TOJ: What impact do you think that Serbia defeat may have on the team?
FZ: Not a big impact, as the team still has confidence in itself. The main problem was the injury to first choice goalkeeper Robert Almer, and now to Zlatko Junuzovic, who will now both miss the Ireland game. This is very bad news for Austria.
TOJ: What is the impression of Martin O'Neill and Ireland within Austria, and what are the perceived strengths?
FZ: To be honest Ireland have not really been spoken about until now. For many Ireland are flying under the radar, with a defensively solid, physically strong team with a fine counter attacking striker in Shane Long. They may not be the most creative team, but difficult to break down and Austria will need to perform. The Austrian people are looking forward to an Ireland fan invasion.
TOJ: Which Ireland players will be earmarked as dangermen?
FZ: Long for sure, Jon Walters is also known as he's a teammate of Marko Arnautovic, and Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan are top players also.
TOJ: Alongside the well-known talents of David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic, who else should Ireland be keeping an eye out for?
FZ: Sabitzer will certainly be one to watch out for. Overall there are many good players all playing in top European leagues. Aleksandar Dragovic and Martin Hinteregger are solid defensively, with Julian Baumgartlinger as a defensive midfielder and Alaba as the creative midfielder. Arnautovic is the attacking flair alongside Marc Janko. There is also some discussion in Austria that Alaba should be played at left back, following Christian Fuchs international retirement, but that is unlikely.
TOJ: Tactically, how are Austria likely to approach the Ireland game?
FZ: Austria will look to have lots of possession and dominate the game, as they did against Wales. However they will be vulnerable to counter attacks as neither Dragovic or Hinteregger are in the best form, and the two full backs are not up to standard.
TOJ: How important do you think the home crowd will be to Austria?
FZ: To be honest, I expect the Ireland fans to dominate on that front.
TOJ: What is the Austrian view of the other sides in the group, dark horses etc?
FZ: For me it will be between Wales and Serbia for the top two places, although Chris Coleman has said that the team that finishes in front of Austria will top the group. The Ireland game will be key as the group is so tight, and I cannot really assess Ireland's chances until after the same. But to underestimate Ireland would be a mistake, as Germany and Italy will both tell you.
TOJ: How do you rate Austria's World Cup qualification chances?
FZ: There is still a chance, despite a poor start. They need a win against Ireland, otherwise they will not be going to Russia. The pressure on Austria will be huge and Ireland could benefit from that.
TOJ: Where do you see the Ireland game being won and lost?
FZ: Austria's defensive performance is vital, if they can defend as they have done in previous qualifying campaigns then they will do well. If not, then they could be in real trouble.