Austria will head into this summer’s European Championships flying slightly under the radar, which may suit them, given they wilted under the pressure at their last major international tournament.
Many people were tipping Austria as dark horses heading into Euro 2016, as they had produced a near-perfect record during qualifying, winning nine of their 10 games and comfortably topping a group that also contained Russia and Sweden.
A favourable draw at the finals meant expectation levels continued to grow and Austria headed to France sitting 10th in the world rankings – their highest ever position.
However, they wilted in the French sunshine during those finals, as they finished bottom of their group behind Hungary, Iceland and eventual champions Portugal, collecting just a solitary point along the way.
The hangover from 2016 lasted a while, as Austria failed to even challenge to qualify for the subsequent World Cup, but the signs are that they are slowly returning to form and maybe this summer they could be peaking at exactly the right time.
Timing Could be Everything for Austria
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the consensus is that Austria peaked during qualifying for the last Euros and were already beginning their downward spiral by the time they arrived in France.
This time around and things appear pretty different, as Franco Foda’s side produced nothing more than a satisfactory qualifying campaign, coming through in second-place behind Poland in what was one of the more favourable looking groups on paper.
That could explain why Austria are seen as nothing more than plucky
80/1 outsiders to win the Euros, but their form since qualifying suggests momentum could be in their favour, as they lost just one of their eight matches during 2020, winning six of those games.
That was enough to earn Foda’s team promotion to the top tier of the UEFA Nations League and shows they surely have to be taken seriously this summer.
Austria Must Learn From Past Failings
At Euro 2016, Austria were expected at the very least to breeze through to the knockout stages, but things did not work out that way. This time their group does not look quite as favourable, but they should still fancy their chances of reaching the last 16.
Given the format of the Euros, one win could even be enough for Austria to qualify and they should really achieve that in their opening game against tournament debutants North Macedonia in Bucharest on June 13.
Failure to win that game would certainly ramp up the pressure on Austria’s next match, which will be in Amsterdam against the Netherlands – their toughest fixture of the group on paper.
Austria’s final group game will be back in Bucharest against Ukraine and they will hope to have qualification assured by then, but the match could still be pivotal in deciding final positions, with Foda’s side currently priced at
5/1 to top the group.
Sprinkling of Star Dust Can Take Austria Far
Like many teams of a similar ilk, Austria have a good dynamic and plenty of experience, while the spine of their squad plays regularly in some of Europe’s top leagues, most notably in the German Bundesliga.
What Austria also have, which makes them stand out from the crowd, is a sprinkling of stardust, most notably in the form of Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, who has won everything with his club and will hope to bring that winning mentality into his national side.
Alaba is one of the most experienced players within the squad, as he has won 76 caps, while the likes of captain Julian Baumgartlinger, Aleksandar Dragovic and Marko Arnautovic should also provide plenty of quality.
Former West Ham and Stoke striker Arnautovic is likely to be Austria’s main source for goals, as he is by far and away the country’s leading active marksman with 26 international strikes to his name.
However, the soon to be 32-year-old has not scored in his last six international appearances and there will be questions asked about whether he can still do it at the highest level after spending the last two years playing in the Chinese Super League.
Austria do not have much in reserve if Arnautovic isn’t firing – Alaba is the next leading scorer in the squad with 14 goals – and that could prove their Achilles heal.
Ultimately, Austria will hope to improve on their last finals appearance – which arguably won’t take much doing – with Foda’s side perhaps looking a good option to make it through to the knockout stages at least.
*All odds correct at time of writing