The Scottish national team are in a good place right now. With the feel-good factor of our historic qualification for the EURO’S still in the air and the buzz around the up coming finals in the summer it’s really no surprise. Despite the long-awaited finals just on the horizon there is still work to be done in the meantime.
Since the beginning of March, the focus has shifted towards qualification again, this time for the World Cup. The wait for an appearance at the World Cup finals for Scotland will have gone on as long as our EURO’s absence come Qatar 2022 next year. Clarke and the boys now face the task of back to back qualification, and our journey to Qatar begins with a triple header to kick off the campaign.
Our first match is at Hampden, and will see our saltire fly alongside the red and white flag of our opponents Austria. Scotland last faced Austria in a friendly in 2007 where the Scots were 1-0 victors. The last competitive meeting between the two nations was back in 1997 during World Cup qualification. Austria finished two points ahead of Scotland to top the group, but Scotland fared better when going head to head with the Austrians beating them 2-0 and drawing 0-0 across the two fixtures.
Austria are second seeds in Group F above Scotland who are third seeds and like ourselves shall be participating in the EURO’s. They find themselves in Group C with the Dutch, Ukraine, and North Macedonia, and qualified via the traditional non-playoff route.
They came second in their EURO 2020 qualifying group with plenty of breathing space between both third and first place, despite a ropey start with back to back defeats to Israel and eventual group winners Poland. They went on to win all but two of all their remaining fixtures, the exceptions a draw with Poland and a surprise defeat on the final match day to minnows Latvia with qualification already in the bag.
Austrian Form Book
Looking at their most recent games, it’s fair to say the Austrians have been in decent form. During the 2020 Nations League they found themselves battling it out in League B, same as Scotland, however the Austrians managed to go one better than our 2nd place finish and topped their own group to achieve promotion to the A League.
They were up against Håland’s Norway, as well as the Romanians and Northern Ireland. Austria’s only defeat in this group came at the hands of Romania on the second matchday, losing 3-2. Apart from a draw against a weakened Norway on the final matchday of the group the Austrian’s won all their other fixtures, but they were all closely run affairs. One goal was all that ever separated wins from draws, with two 1-0 and 2-1 victories.
In “The Tartan Scarf podcast”, guest Tom Middler who is well acquainted with our opponents touched on this as well. Austria often get the right results, but they are somewhat comparable to Scotland in the way they grind these out, with the margins tight as well as the end results.
Initially the Austrians had some concern over who would be allowed to travel to Scotland due to quarantine restrictions which would affect their German based players in the Bundesliga. Fortunately, changes have been implemented to allow for these players to travel and the Austrian released their confirmed squad only earlier this week. Again, similarities can be drawn between Austria and Scotland, in the way they have good domestic league while being neighboured by one of the proclaimed “top 5 leagues” where many of their top players also play their club football.
Breaking down the squad, of the 29 players called up, 19 of them play their club football in Germany. Only 6 of them play domestically within Austria, and they all come from the top three sides in the league. Another point raised by Middler on ‘The Tartan Scarf podcast’ was that of the trust which is placed in the Bundesliga boys over the those playing domestically in Austria, potentially due to the reputation of the league and irrespective of form at times. Again this is another similarity which could be drawn with Scotland in recent years with players down south given the benefit of the doubt over those playing in the SPFL north of the border, although this has been less of the case since Steve Clarke came in and laid down his marker.
Austria’s German Bundesliga poster boys David Alaba and Marcel Sabitzer are both included in the squad. Many Scots will likely be familiar with Alaba who has been an integral part of Bayern Munich’s success over recent seasons, after breaking into the team in 2010 as a fresh faced 17 year old. The defensive player has numerous Bundesliga titles to his name as well as two Champions League winners’ medals and was widely regarded one of Europe’s best left backs for years. More recently he has been deployed as a centre back by Bayern, but has also featured as a defensive midfielder. For Austria his role has varied throughout his international career due to his versatility, playing more advanced at times on the left side.
Midfielder Sabitzer plays for Bundesliga rivals RB Leipzig, who are second in the table and looking to keep the pressure on Munich as the season comes to a close. Having moved to Leipzig from Red Bull’s Austrian outfit who hail from Salzburg, Sabitzer has grown and developed in his time in the German Bundesliga into one of the leagues best midfielders. When deployed for the Austrians the Leipzig man also often takes up a more advanced position, which is no surprise given the sharp shooting he has showcased at times.
The most capped player in their squad is Bayer Leverkusen’s centre back Aleksandar Dragović. With 86 caps to his name Dragović is almost certain to start at the back for his nation, although this will likely be without fellow centre half Hinteregger who despite being in the squad is believed to not fit for the opening match. If so, the Frankfurt man will be a miss for the Austrians, who has enjoyed a successful season with his club so far. Fellow defender Stefan Posch of Hoffenheim is also believed to be unfit despite being named in the final squad list.
Their captain, veteran Julian Baumgartlinger will also be absent and was not named in the 29 man squad, but this is no shock as the Leverkusen midfielder is even a doubt for the EURO’S this summer after sustaining a serious knee injury which has seen him side lined.
Two inclusions within the squad who have given Austrians a reason to get excited are attackers Ercan Kara and Yusuf Demir who play for Rapid Wien. Both are uncapped for the national team and when it was originally reported that Bundesliga players may not feature at Hampden, many Austrians were excited at the prospect of both making their international debut.
Kara is 25 years old and made his move to Rapid Wien in January 2020. This season he has been in sensational goal scoring form and has 12 league goals in 22 games, along with 6 assists, so the excitement around him pulling on an Austrian shirt for the first time is understandable.
Youngster Demir hasn’t had to wait as long as Kara for his first call up, with the 17-year-old regarded as a hot prospect for the Austrians and has been dubbed by media outlets as the ‘Austrian-Messi’. Top European clubs such as Barcelona, Dortmund and both the Manchester sides are believed to be chasing the attacker’s signature with intentions of making a move for him this summer. Having been capped at u17 and u21 for the Austrians, many anticipate him to make the jump to the men’s senior side excited to see what the young talent can bring to the table.
Austria have not had the same struggles as Scotland when it comes to qualifying for the European Championships, however when it comes to the World Cup the Austrian faithful have had to wait just as long as the Tartan Army with their last appearance also at France ’98. Many fans consider the Austrians to be under performing at times with such good players coming into their national fold in recent seasons. Despite the likely playoff place in the bag, there is still an expectation on their side to do well in their group, as like Scotland they are eyeing Denmark as one of the weakest top seeded sides who could possibly be beaten to that 1st place spot to guarantee a place at Qatar 2020.
All in all, Austria are a decent side and as previously said will definitely have aspirations around clinching that top spot in the group. Throughout their squad they have some noteworthy players and Steve Clark will surely be taking them seriously as potential group winners. From an Austrian perspective looking at us however, we are not too dissimilar to them in many respects with some notable individuals ourselves playing at a high level. One would think they will likely be looking at us as a strong 3rd seed outfit to be weary of.
Make no mistake though, Steve Clarke and his men should expect two tough matches against them. These will be two games where it’s likely there won’t be much between relatively evenly matched sides and probably not many goals. Chances could be hard to come by throughout the 90 minutes and the winner may be decided by who is more clinical in front of goal and who takes their limited chances.
Funnily enough, when looking at our respective nation’s flags, the Austrian flag is the second oldest in Europe, second only to the Saltire. Here’s hoping the Austrians are second to Scotland again, as the sides face off at Hampden and the Tartan Army can enjoy a rendition of “Doe a Deer” after full time while celebrating a strong start in the race for a ticket to Qatar next year.