The Austrian national football team may the surprise packet of the 2016 UEFA European Football Championships in France.
If qualifying unbeaten is not convincing enough, Unsere Burschen – or Our Boys – are ranked 10th in the most recent FIFA rankings. But what is absolutely clear is that if Austria want to achieve their potential in the tournament’s finals, they will have to do what no other Austrian team has done at a Euros – make it out of the group. This squad has already made history by becoming the first in the nation’s history to qualify in the regular manner, as their only other appearance at the Euros came in 2008 as joint hosts with Switzerland.
Austria currently has its strongest squad in years, featuring household names like Leicester City’s Christian Fuchs as captain, Bayern Munich fullback David Alaba, Stoke City powerhouse Marko Arnautovic, as well as former Sydney FC marquee player Marc Janko – who now plies his trade for Basel.
The side is coached by former Swiss international midfielder Marcel Koller, who has had a mixed record as manager. While he won two titles with St Gallen and his alma mater Grasshoppers, he suffered relegation at Cologne in the Bundesliga and in 2004 he earned Bochum promotion from the Bundesliga II, surviving the drop for four seasons before being sacked after a run of poor results and fan denigration for his defensively minded style.
But Koller masterminded decisive 1-0 wins at home and away against Russia to ensure qualification for Euro 2016.
Austria is drawn into Group F alongside a very evenly matched Hungary, Iceland and Portugal. The other nations all feature match winners, none more so than Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
The biggest question for the Austrian side is whether they can live up to the weight of expectation from the fans as one of the emerging European powers. Blending youth and experience, the squad is well balanced and has been dominant in qualifying.
Koller is a studious figure who has built a setup with genuine competition for places. Equally adept at playing attacking football as well as on the counter against stronger opposition, he employed the latter to great effect in matches away against Russia and Sweden away in qualification. But it is the well organised, quick transition of the ball to the front-third which has been most effective.
The Austrian public will be hoping Janko can lead the line to good effect and further solidify his one in two record in front of goal for the national team. Arnautovic has already wowed crowds in the Premier League with his Ibrahimovic style looks, pace and explosive aggression, but he needs to become a more regular performer for Unsere Burschen.
Predicted finish – Round of 16
Despite having the second highest points tally in qualifying (beaten only by England with a perfect 30 points), at 40/1 Austria are outsiders to win the tournament.
However, confidence in the camp is high with defender Kevin Wimmer stating recently,
“We have a very good team, most of our players are playing in the German Bundesliga and even four or five now play in the Premier League. With the national side, though, in the last few years the development of the Austrian football team has been incredible.”