For the first time in the nation’s history, Austria will be taking part in consecutive 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 will now make 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.
Austria have subsequently been placed in a somewhat favourable Group C at Euro 2020, which includes Netherlands, Ukraine and North Macedonia, but can they progress to the knockout rounds for the first time in their history? Here’s how they are shaping up.
The best players Austria will bring to Euro 2020
A huge question mark hangs 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.
That man is Watford’s Daniel Bachmann, who has fully capitalised on the broken finger sustained by Ben Foster in mid-January to deputise with distinction, keeping 13 clean sheets in 22 Championship games since his enforced introduction.
He remains uncapped at international level, but he was called up for March’s World Cup qualifiers, which gave us a clearer indication of Foda’s intentions for the summer.
The Bayern Munich 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. He rarely plays in defence for Austria, but often mans the engine room in midfield, or even occupies a wide role — he is the nation’s world-class factotum.
In recent showings he has reverted to more familiar settings, playing left-back, on the wing and in defence during the most recent international breaks. Such versatility mirrors his role for Bayern, where he has predominantly taken on a centre-half role this season, but has also been utilised in defensive midfield, at left-back and on the wing as well.
With Alaba and Sabitzer in the side, Foda has one of the most dynamic, versatile and balanced midfields in the entire competition. The RB Leipzig man is another, like his Bayern compatriot, to have occupied multiple roles this season, and does so at international level as well.
During the international breaks in 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. Such intensity should provide the perfect foil for Alaba’s technical precision and Julian Baumgartlinger’s tempo setting.
The former West Ham forward will no doubt be itching to set Euro 2020 alight come the summer. The mercurial marksman 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.
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.
Foda has been known to experiment with a back three in international friendlies, but for competitive fixtures he has been a staunch advocate of a 4-2-3-1, which offers the coach a perfect harmony of defensive stability and attacking rigour.
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 Baumgartlinger, Sabitzer and Stefan Ilsanker is one of the continent’s most balanced and tenacious.
With such a high work rate in the central area, Alaba has greater freedom to use his technical qualities to create space on the left, exploit the half space and link with byline partner Andreas Ulmer, with the duo boasting a tremendous understanding.
Arnautovic is almost the joker in the pack, capable of changing the complexion of a game in a split second, as was often the case at West Ham, and he will bring the whole equation together, offering the aggression and robustness his more neat and nimble teammates lack.
Defensively, Austria are padded out with Bundesliga quality, not least the trio of Aleksandar Dragovic, Martin Hinteregger and Stefan Lainer, who collectively offer Foda grit and steel to complement the creative qualities of the midfield in front of them.
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: DDWWWWWLW
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.
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. For them to qualify from Group C which, as mentioned, contains the likes of the Netherlands, Ukraine and North Macedonia, Sky Bet are offering odds of 4/11, or 5/1 for them to top the table. Should they pull that off, then you can get odds of 80/1 for Austria to go all the way and win the tournament outright.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)