Monday 16 June ~
The English papers have consistently repeated that there are two Englishmen at Euro 2008. The first, Turkey's Colin Kazim-Richards, came on as a second-half substitute in their dramatic comeback against the Czech Republic last night. The second, referee Howard Webb, is still in the news for his controversial last-minute penalty award to Austria in their game against Poland last Thursday. Webb is apparently Polish “public enemy number one”, even the country's prime minister Donald Tusk said he felt like he wanted to “kill” the English referee. But for the joint-hosts the draw against Poland kept them in the competition and has allowed them to get all excited about their match against Germany tonight.
This one penalty has single-handedly altered the Austrian national team's status from an embarrassment (a 10,000-name petition urged them to withdraw prior the tournament) to a sudden object of great pride. Assistant manager Andreas Herzog made the most of this: “People joked that we should not be taking part – now it is satisfying to show that we have a real chance.” The Austrian media have duly become obsessed with the 1978 World Cup victory over West Germany in Argentina. In that match Austria beat Germany 3-2 to send the defending champions out of the competition. Current Austrian captain Andreas Ivanschitz claimed: “We need a second Cordoba. That's a piece of of history in Austrian football and we are about to rewrite it.”
The uneasy historical relationship between these neighbours includes some of the most poignant tales in football history. One such example is Matthias Sindelar, thought by many to be Austria's greatest-ever footballer and star of the 1934 Wunderteam. After the Anschluss Sindelar refused to play for the Germany national team under the Nazi regime. He died mysteriously only a few months later and ever since his death has been variously declared to be suicide, accident or even Nazi murder. Sindelar has since become an almost mythological figure.
The pre-match build-up today is much less sympathetic. Austrian striker Martin Harnik stated: “They are under three times more pressure than us. I can see it coming to the point where they shit their pants.” The Austrian tabloids have also been taking great joy in taunting their German counterparts. On the German side it is clear that the defeat to Croatia has caused unease. Michael Ballack has admitted to tension and Miroslav Klose has reportedly accused team-mates of selfishness. Unfortunately for Austria the pre-tournament favourites have not turned into a bad team overnight and one disputed penalty (even one given by an English referee) does not bridge the huge gap between the two teams – Germany are fifth in UEFA rankings to Austria's 92nd position. Herzog at the weekend stated that “they can shove the [rankings] up their arse” and the Austrians are bullish but don't expect a repeat of 1978.