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Thursday, 12 June 2008

Euro 2008 Preview; Austria v Poland


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After the elimination of one host nation, Austria will be hoping to deny a double when they take on Poland in Euro 2008 Group B in Vienna on Thursday (June 12).

Switzerland’s 2-1 defeat to Turkey last night (June 11) left Austria standing alone among host nations retaining an interest in the competition, and they have it all to do to keep hold of that status. Yet although they were beaten narrowly by Croatia on Sunday (June 8) the Austrians surprised many, including their own fans, with how competitive they were. Only Luka Modric’s penalty separated the sides in a game from which Austria arguably deserved at least a point. They didn’t get it, and now find their tournament future potentially on the line against Leo Beenhakker’s Polish outfit.

The Poles fared little better in their opener, going down 2-0 to Germany in an emotion-charged atmosphere in Klagenfurt. Reports of post-game violence among the fans are disappointing, and it is to be hoped that those attending this one can concentrate on the football rather than the politics and the xenophobia. On the field Beenhakker’s side enjoyed some positive spells against the Germans, but were ultimately well beaten by one of the tournament’s most fancied sides.

Beenhakker is forced to make at least one change to his team. Former Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski is the victim of a thigh injury and misses out. The skipper could be replaced in attack by the Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro, while there may also be a change at left-back. Jakub Wawryzniak could replace Pawel Golanski in that position, with the captaincy transferring to Jacek Bak in the absence of Zurawski.

Austrian midfielder Umit Korkmaz turned in a high-octane performance against the Croatians and is pushing hard for a starting slot. Meanwhile striker Roland Linz is hoping to win his battle to recover from an ankle injury to start alongside Martin Harnik. Harnik plays his football for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and with the experienced Ivica Vastic impressing off the bench on Sunday coach Josef Hickersberger does hold one or two attacking aces up his sleeve. Should Linz miss out he could be replaced by 24-year-old striker Roman Kienast, who also enjoyed some playing time off the bench against Slaven Bilic’s side.

Despite their modest record in the modern era Austria has a great footballing tradition, amassing one of the world’s most feared sides during the 1930’s and again in the 1950’s. Yet they have yet to win a major honour, and have never qualified for the European Championships. Their record against Poland is poor when it matters, having lost both competitive matches between the two. The sides have not met since Poland’s 3-2 win in 2005, but when they do clash there are usually goals. Austria have enjoyed 5-2 and 4-3 wins over the Poles down the years, while Poland came out on top 4-2 in 1992. Overall Poland have won four of the previous seven meetings (including friendlies), with Austria taking three. There has never been a drawn game between the two.

With both playing catch-up in Group B you wouldn’t expect either to settle for a stalemate in this one either. Both lacked penetration in their opening games, but perhaps both will thrive against less efficient defending than that displayed by Germany and Croatia. If Austria bow out it will be the first time that a host nation has failed to reach the knockout stages of a European Championship since UEFA introduced a group phase in 1980.

It is just possible that they will. Their fans will give their all to try and raise the Austrians’ game, but Poland impressed in qualifying and a return to that sort of form should see them past a team still ranked 92nd in the new world order.

Verdict; Poland 3 Austria 2

By Stephen Orford

12 June 2008

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