Our football scribe previews the 2018 UEFA World Cup qualifier between Austria and Republic of Ireland.
This Group D encounter in Vienna is almost a do-or-die fixture for the home side. Marcel Koller’s side had an exceptionally disappointing stint at the Euro’s and have carried that disappointing form into the qualification arena. While they have arguably had a more difficult start than the Republic, anything other than a win here could leave the Austrian’s some way behind Serbia, Ireland and the Welsh.
Martin O’Neill’s side sit on seven points in second place in the standings, only behind the Serbian side on goal difference. With automatic qualification only guaranteed for the team that finishes first, O’ Neill’s side will be desperate to pick up at least a point from this game - if not all three. Wales sit precariously poised on five points in the group and will be awaiting any slip-up to progress in the standings.
Austria v Ireland | Saturday 12 November | Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna | 19:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Austria 19/20 | Draw 23/10 | Republic of Ireland 29/10
The Austrian side gravely underperformed at the Euro’s and seem to be struggling to formulate a specific identity. Do they attempt to retain possession or should they play on the counterattack. In my opinion they are a better counterattacking unit, although they will probably end up dominating possession in this game in their home stadium.
They have been forced to make a change in the squad since injury has ruled out influential playmaker Zlatko Junuzovic. Karim Onisiwo has been drafted in and could very likely start. David Alaba is clearly a hugely influential player and will be looking to run the likes of Glenn Whelan and James McClean ragged.
Marko Arnautovic will play off the left in what could turn out to be a titanic tussle with Everton’s Seamus Coleman. Marc Janko will play through the middle while Martin Harnik will look to slug it out with Robbie Brady.
Julian Baumgartlinger will sit in and look to contain the Irish threat in the number ten area. This could be Wes Hoolahan or Jeff Hendrick, or possibly both. I’m concerned that Austria, giving their relative desperation in terms of the group situation, will look to force the game and fall into the Republic of Ireland’s trap.
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland’s preparations for this game have been hampered by an unseemly feud between the O’Neill and Ronald Koeman surrounding McCarthy’s unavailability for the game. McCarthy has made himself unavailable and O’Neill has suggested that Koeman has played a role in this.
Roy Keane - ever the diplomat - has added his delicate voice to proceedings and suggested that Koeman’s side need to toughen up. Darron Gibson will likely come into the one area where the Irish may feel vulnerable. Alaba’s sheer athleticism will challenge this holding duo.
Coleman may have to curtail some of his more attacking impulses with the dangerous Aranutovic lurking menacingly down that left-hand touchline. O’Neill will likely resist the temptation to play Hoolahan and will leave the effervescent playmaker on the bench. McClean and Walters will look to provide the speed and industry for Walters to exploit through the middle.
While he may not quite have the same goal scoring instinct as retired star Robbie Keane, Walter’s more robust presence is actually perfectly suited for what will ultimately manifest in your stereotypical away performance. Watch out for Brady, deputizing for the injured Stephen Ward. He has a vicious left-foot delivery and could cause Austria distress down the left flank.
Verdict: Republic of Ireland Win/Draw (15/20)
I think that this Irish side will be perfectly set up to hit Austria on the counterattack. In Shane Long and McClean, they possess the speed and industry to make real inroads when Austria desperately go in search of the win. Austria’s tenuous position in the group really leaves them with little choice but to try boss the game. The quality of Alaba and Arnautovic could see Austria hold out for a point, but I expect the Republic to be more than satisfied with their days work in Vienna.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets