For the first time in the nation’s history, Austria will be taking part in the knockout stages of the European Championships.
Following their debut appearance in the tournament in 2008 (for which they qualified automatically as co-hosts) Das Team have gone on to appear at Euro 2016, and have now made their third showing in the quadrennial competition.
The path to Euro 2020 was far from routine after Austria lost their opening two games in the qualification campaign, but Franco Foda’s side bounced back to secure second in Group G, posting six wins, including a clean sheet against Robert Lewandowski’s Poland.
And they made it through a potentially tricky Group C, finishing second behind Netherlands thanks to two victories from their three games, beating Ukraine and North Macedonia. But how far can they go?
The best players Austria will bring to Euro 2020
A huge question mark hung over the No. 1 jersey in the Austrian set-up, with Alexander Schlager the most recent ‘keeper to take up the gloves during the international breaks, chosen ahead of Pavao Pervan and Heinz Lindner, but there is another option.
When the Austrian squad was announced, a huge question mark hung over the No. 1 jersey. But from the start of the tournament, there has been no doubt, with Daniel Bachmann starting the two Euro 2020 warm-up matches and three group stage games.
Bachmann fully capitalised on the broken finger sustained by Ben Foster in mid-January to deputise with distinction, keeping 13 clean sheets in 23 Championship games since his enforced introduction.
He went into the summer international period uncapped and in the build up to the tournament, spoke of his career-changing six months.
“If you had told me that in the first week of January I would have laughed at you,” he told Watford’s official website.
“It just shows you how quickly things can change and I’m just glad all the hard work has paid off. I never gave up even though it wasn’t easy not playing much for the past two seasons and I kept training as if I was playing. I got my chance and I took it.
“It’s always special to represent your country – and for it to be a big tournament makes it extra special.
“Going to the Euros is probably the second biggest thing in football, after a World Cup. It’s incredible, really.”
The now-Real Madrid defender-cum-midfielder is the vital artery of this Austria side, a player willing to strain every sinew for the cause and slot in where necessity dictates. In recent showings he has reverted to more familiar settings, playing centre-back and left-back at Euro 2020, but he can still cause problems further up the pitch.
During the international breaks last autumn, Sabitzer switched between playing in the hole and up front, partnering Marko Arnautovic in the 1-1 draw with Norway. For Leipzig he takes on a deeper role, but one that regularly sees him enter the final third, such are the high-octane demands of Julian Nagelsmann.
In that sense, Sabitzer is an archetypal Nagelsmann midfielder, providing copious amounts of energy, industry and enterprise to Die Roten Bullen, while always looking to play on the front foot and never relenting.
The former West Ham forward remains a potent force up front despite trading the technical pastures of Premier League football for the Chinese Super League in 2019.
Just like Alaba and Sabitzer, Arnautovic offers his national coach tremendous versatility, having initially risen to prominence as a winger before a David Moyes-inspired gambit saw him shimmy across to a central attacking role, where he duly shone and elevated a misfiring West Ham to new heights.
He has continued the prolific form he discovered in east London in the Far East and knits this side together, providing an aggressive outlet up front, while he is also capable of holding the ball up, marauding forward with devastation, and linking play.
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 24, 2021
The manager: Franco Foda
During his playing days Foda carved out a pretty successful career in the Bundesliga, turning out for the likes of Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen and Stuttgart, while also earning international recognition, collecting two caps for West Germany, then managed by Franz Beckenbauer.
Since hanging up his boots, Foda’s managerial CV has included a prolonged spell with Austrian club Sturm Graz, where he initially started out as assistant manager, before taking the reins in 2006, holding the position for six years and masterminding Austrian Bundesliga success in that time.
He returned to the club in 2014 after a brief stint at Kaiserslautern, and his work in Austria ultimately alerted the national hierarchy, who appointed him head coach after Marcel Koller parted company. In his three-year stint at the helm Foda has ticked every box so far, recently guiding Austria to League A promotion in the Nations League, while also following in Koller’s footsteps by achieving European Championship qualification.
After experimenting with a back three in friendlies, Foda opted to stick with that set up for Euro 2020, playing a 3-1-4-2 in their opening two matches before reverting to the 4-2-3-1 for their final game against Ukraine.
Austria are an active, front-foot side who like to dominate the ball and press with vigour, and Foda certainly has the tools to put that philosophy into practice. As touched on, a midfield containing Sabitzer, Xaver Schlager and Konrad Laimer is one of the continent’s most balanced and tenacious.
With such a high work rate in the central area, Andreas Ulmer has greater freedom to roam further up the pitch, exploit the half space while byline partner Stefan Lainer plays a slightly more reserved role.
Defensively, Austria are padded out with Bundesliga quality, not least the trio of Aleksandar Dragovic, Martin Hinteregger and Alaba, who collectively offer Foda grit and steel to complement the creative qualities of the midfield in front of them.
With it being almost five years since Austria last graced a major tournament, it’s no surprise that a few of their players from that final Euro 2016 group game have retired. Goalkeeper Robert Almer and Florian Klein have both called their careers to an end, while Christian Fuchs hasn’t featured for Austria since Euro 2016.
The 2-1 defeat to Iceland also saw Marcel Sabitzer starting as a striker, a position he plays in sporadically for Austria.
The form guide
Euro 2020 qualifying: LWWWDWWWLL
Two defeats off the bat spelled serious danger for Foda, but he was able to quickly stop that rot and restore Austria’s qualification hopes, going the next seven games unbeaten, posting six wins in that time and securing a goalless draw with Poland, which saw them place second and five points ahead of North Macedonia.
Their form was such that they finished the qualification campaign as top scorers in Group G, outgunning Lewandowski’s Poland, while Arnautovic, for his part, finished as the joint-second-highest scorer (six), alongside the Bayern forward, with Israel’s Eran Zahavi netting a ridiculous 11 goals to top the charts.
Recent fixtures: WLWDLLWD
Autumn’s international breaks were highly fruitful for Austria, who lost just once in eight outings and earned a top spot in Group B1 of the Nations League, subsequently securing promotion to League A for 2022/23. Their sole defeat in the group came in a 3-2 reversal at the hands of Romania, but Foda was able to secure huge wins over Norway, Northern Ireland and the reverse fixture against Romania to move up a tier. However, they returned to competitive action in 2021 with a 2-2 draw against Scotland in World Cup qualifying, before a thumping 4-0 defeat to Denmark. And their build up to Euro 2020 wasn’t great either, losing to England and drawing with Slovakia, but they made up for it with the group stage performance, only losing to Netherlands.
Austria’s Euro 2020 odds
Despite having never progressed to the knockout rounds in this competition, Austria enter Euro 2020 as a bit of a dark horse given the quality, balance and experience of their squad, not to mention being placed into a relatively straightforward group. In the knockout stages for the first time, you can get odds of 100/1 for Austria to go all the way and win the tournament outright (owing to the fact they play Italy in their last-16 tie).
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)