It’s funny to think that some tipsters were backing Austria as dark horses for Euro 2016. Maybe “Das Team” couldn’t cope with the expectation, but, whatever the reason, they were one of the big disappointments in France.
Yet in qualifying Austria were almost impeccable, dropping just two points from ten games in a group with Sweden, Russia and Montenegro. On the road to Russia they’ve lost away in Serbia and drawn with Wales at home, so it’s time for Austria to get going.
Group’s Strongest Team?
It’s tricky to pick Serbia, Wales, Ireland and Austria apart in Group D. But Austria at least appear to have the best group of players available.
Everywhere you look there are players getting matches in the Premier League and Bundesliga. And in David Alaba they have someone who can play almost anywhere on the pitch and put in a world-class performance.
If Alaba’s the star then there’s a host of good supporting players. Two of these, Ilsanker and Sabitzer, are to be found at RB Leipzig, who have taken the Bundesliga by storm and are level on points with Bayern.
Sabitzer is the one to watch, with quick feet and an eye for the goal from midfield. Then at the back Austria are as solid as it gets, with two tough centre-backs in Wimmer and Leverkusen’s Dragović, though Sebastian Prödl’s absence through injury is a big loss.
The main reason it’s difficult to back Ireland for their trip to the Ernst-Happel-Stadion is the serious shortage of strikers in the squad. Robbie Keane called it a day in the summer, and there’s no sign of anybody following up.
With Shane Long now out after pulling a hamstring it leaves Kevin Doyle and Jonathan Walters as the most likely starters, though both are winding down their careers.
Pace isn’t everything of course, but when you assess Ireland’s options you wonder how they’re going to stretch an experienced Austrian defence.
Bet on them to Scrap
What Ireland lack in star quality they make up for with a collective spirit. Things are going well for them in Group D, as they avoided defeat to a strong Serbia team in Belgrade and picked up routine wins against Moldova and Georgia.
But their job has got a lot harder this week with the news that James McCarthy is also going to miss out with injury. Go beyond Coleman, Whelan, Arter and possibly Hendrick, and there are few players making a difference at top flight clubs.
Not many people were tipping Dundalk to make an impact in Europe this season. Irish sides never get to the Champions League, but Dundalk F.C. came closer than any, falling to Legia Warsaw at the final hurdle.
They’re making a fist of it in the Europa League, and at second in their group after four matches, stand a good chance of progressing to the round of 32.
The midfielder Daryl Horgan and defender Andy Boyle have both been rewarded with international call-ups, and Martin O’Neill will be delighted that domestic Irish is producing players for the national side.
Austria vs Ireland Match Prediction
Ireland won’t make it easy for Austria, because they never make it easy for anyone, but will come unstuck in Vienna on Saturday. While you can’t doubt the team ethic or O’Neill’s ability to motivate his troops, there just aren’t enough difference-makers to get anything away at a side loaded with Bundesliga talent.
Odds of 2.00 for a home win look way too good to pass up, and we’ll be betting on Austria to throw Group D wide open.