Opposition Watch: Austria
TOJ: What have you made of Austria's start to World Cup qualification?
FZ: Quite disappointing to say the least. Much of the spirit of the EURO qualification went missing in France and the bad form was somehow dragged into the Word Cup qualification.
Austria seem to be in a quite bad cycle – physically and mentally. It all started with the bad spell at the Euros. After that the team captain Christian Fuchs retired from international football. Since then Ramazan Özcan and Markus Suttner did the same.
Additionally many important players are now injured. Like RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer who fell at home through a glass table. Or Schalke’s Alessandro Schöpf, both goalkeepers (Lukse and Almer) and Basel striker Marc Janko.
The most important offensive player – Marko Arnautovic – is suspended as is Stefan Ilsanker. That’s a pity because the new 3-4-3 formation looked promising to me.
I am not sure how the team will cope with all those key players missing.
TOJ: What is the current mood like in the Austrian camp?
FZ: Every Austrian player will tell you that the spirit is high. I doubt that a bit to be honest.
Especially after Marcel Koller held a fierce press conference a few weeks ago, where he was quite emotional by his standards. He said that his players moan way too much and he asked them if they really want to play for their country.
It was quite severe.
TOJ: What impact do you think that the defeat by Ireland in Vienna may have on the team?
FZ: It was a shocker, of course.
Before it seemed to me like the team somehow recovered a bit because the home game against Wales was actually pretty good and the draw arguably unlucky. Serbia and Ireland proved me wrong.
But in my opinion Ireland are also fairly underrated. No one in Austria really counted on you. It was always about Wales, Serbia and Austria.
TOJ: Has Marcel Koller been under pressure with the disappointing start?
FZ: Not massively. But the ease from the years before is gone. He seems to be more sensitive, and is now criticizing his players publicly. For years he was one of the most popular figures in Austria.
Now he is questioned more, but it seems more and more difficult for him to cope with it. Those away games against Ireland and Wales will be quite indicatory. His contract expires at the end of the year.
TOJ: With 13 players from the current squad playing for German Bundesliga clubs, which ones have had good seasons?
FZ: Alessandro Schöpf had a remarkable season at Schalke but tore his knee ligaments recently. David Alaba struggled briefly for his standards but is still an absolute terrific player of course. Marcel Sabitzer had his Bundesliga debut season with Leipzig and was one of their top scorers. He will miss the game though. Guido Burgstaller who transferred from Nürnberg to Schalke in January scored 9 times in 18 games. He will start on Sunday.
TOJ: What is the impression of Martin O'Neill and Ireland within Austria since that game, and what are the perceived strengths?
FZ: I liked how O’Neill slowed down the euphoria after that win against Uruguay. Ireland really seems to thrive through discipline, compact organisation, physical strength and quick "Umschaltspiel" (switching from defence to attack).
Attributes that could really cause Austria some problems again. But I am not an expert regarding the Irish team. I’ve only seen you in Austria and at the Euros in full but I liked what I’ve seen.
TOJ: Which Ireland players will be earmarked as dangermen?
FZ: Walters is always dangerous, even if his miss against Uruguay was quite funny. Apparently Christie was also in good form, but I’ve only seen the highlights of the game. But apart from the injured Shane Long in the current squad I see more collective qualities than individuals.
TOJ: With Arnautovic, Schoepf, Ilsanker and Janko missing, does this present a good chance for interesting talents who might get the opportunity?
FZ: I guess we will see a 3-4-3 again with Guido Burgstaller up front, Harnik on the right side and probably Werder Bremen’s Florian Kainz on the left.
TOJ: How do you rate Austria's World Cup qualification chances?
FZ: At the moment I don’t see Austria in Russia but it will depend on the two away games in Ireland and Wales next. Who knows, but with all those key players missing it will be a mammoth task on Sunday.
TOJ: Prediction for the game and for the overall group?
FZ: I am not a big fan of predicting national team results because so much can happen between Sunday and the next game in September but at the moment I can see Ireland winning a tight game on Sunday – maybe 2:1 or so – and then going all the way.
But hey, don’t use that against me if you bottle it!
TOJ: Ha, good stuff Fabian, lets hope your prediction is spot on!
Fabian Zerche is an Austrian football journalist and writes for Sportsnet.at. Follow him at @FabianZerche for the inside track on the Austrian National Team