Austria optimistic for future despite poor Euro 2016

Alessandro Schopf showed his potential in Marcel Koller’s squad

24 June ~ A day after Austria’s defeat in the final group match against Iceland, the country are licking their wounds. Finishing bottom of their group came as a shock for head coach Marcel Koller and the team who had qualified with ease. Of course, the so-called legends were the first to judge. “It’s a fiasco,” said former national coach Hans Krankl in the tabloid Osterreich. In the same article, one journalist wrote: “The Euros were Austria’s Waterloo – and now the international press are laughing about us”.

That might be a bit far-fetched, but if you read the papers these days, many conclude that the team performed a lot worse than their potential would have suggested. Austria’s most famous player, David Alaba, was the most obvious example – in the press ratings for the team, probably for the first time ever he got the lowest marks.

Alaba was meant to replace injured playmaker Zlatko Junuzovic in the attacking midfield position after the first game, but failed from the start. Against Portugal, only 60 per cent of his passes found the right target, and Koller replaced him with Alessandro Schopf only an hour into the game. Nevertheless, the coach backed Alaba before the final game against Iceland when some journalists had reckoned that he would be left out. Alaba can still be a decisive player when intelligence and creativity are required but he needs to be able to build up a game from a more defensive position in midfield. 

Among the few Austrians who came out of the Euros with any credit was goalkeeper Robert Almer, who was praised for his performance against Portugal. Schopf looked like one for the next generation after he played in all three group matches and scored Austria’s  first – and only – goal . The media hammered the rest of the team.

In examining the reasons for the failure many, such as the national TV station ORF and the newspaper Kurier, denounced Koller’s unusually radical changes in playing style and formation as experiments which were said to have unsettled the players. Add injuries to that and they have a point. Only in the second half of the final game did Austria play as they had in their qualifying campaign. Quick passing, counter attacks and a strong physical presence overpowered Sweden and Russia last year. With the creative contributions from Schopf, it was almost enough against Iceland. 

But Koller can be forgiven: at the age of 55, it was his first tournament as a national coach. The same goes for all but five of the players. While the optimism ahead of the tournament quickly disappeared, there is still reason to think that the impending World Cup qualifiers will be a different story. Mario Sonnberger