Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Darko Vojinovic David Alab has scored 11 goals in 52 appearances for Austria.
# Star
Analysis: The key man Ireland need to stop from playing today
Bayern Munich player David Alaba will be comfortably the biggest star on the pitch this evening.

WHEN IRELAND PLAY Austria today, there is no question that one player will be a class above virtually everyone else on the field.

Bayern Munich star David Alaba is not only Austria’s best player, he is widely considered to be among the world’s best footballers.

International football has shown in recent times that you don’t necessarily need to have a great team in order to achieve significant success.

What many of the most successful teams tend to have nowadays, however, is a solid group of players featuring one outstanding individual.

Wales got to the semi-finals of the Euros with just one world-class player in their side, Gareth Bale (or arguably two, depending on how highly you regard Aaron Ramsey).

Similarly, Portugal, the tournament’s winners, mainly relied on a combination of excellent defending and the brilliance of their only superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, to prevail against the odds.

The rest of Fernando Santos’ side was a combination of promising youngsters and solid, experienced, tactically intelligent pros who combined to form a formidable unit.

Austria, of course, did the not enjoy the same level of success as Wales or Portugal, or even Ireland, at Euro 2016.

In fact, Marcel Koller’s side were one of the tournament’s biggest flops. Having gone through the qualification stages unbeaten, progressing to the finals comfortably, some critics went so far as to tip them as dark horses to win the tournament outright.

Yet losses to Iceland and Hungary, coupled with a draw against Portugal, meant Austria were one of the first sides to exit the tournament.

And since their underwhelming display at the Euros, the Austrians seem to be suffering somewhat of a hangover, beginning their World Cup campaign in similarly unspectacular fashion.

An unconvincing win way to Georgia was followed by a home draw with Wales and a loss away in Serbia.

Consequently, the Austrians sit third in the group, three points behind joint-leaders Ireland, so they will no doubt view today’s game in the Ernst Happel Stadion as crucial to their qualification prospects.

And so Alaba is the player Austria will largely rely on in this difficult situation.

Career overview

A product of Bayern’s youth system, Alaba made his debut in 2010 aged 17, in the process becoming the iconic German club’s youngest ever player to feature in a competitive fixture, establishing himself as a first-team regular in the 2011-12 season.

Since then, Alaba has made the left-back slot his own for Bayern, earning numerous accolades in the process. A genuine footballing prodigy, at 24, Alaba has already won more trophies than most manage in an entire career, including five Bundesligas and one Champions League title.

Alaba’s individual achievements are also impressive — he has been named Austrian footballer of the year for the past five consecutive seasons, while winning a place in the Uefa Team of the Year in the last three campaigns.

For Austria, he has also excelled since becoming the youngest player ever to feature for his country in 2009. Since then, he has registered 11 goals in 50 appearances for Austria.

Irish fans who have followed the team’s fortunes in recent years will also probably be familiar with Alaba. The Bayern Munich star was a thorn in the Boys in Green’s side during the qualification stages of the 2014 World Cup. He scored a vital last-minute equaliser amid a 2-2 draw between the sides in Dublin, before hitting the winner in the return fixture, all but ending Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure as Ireland manager in the process.

Goal News & Highlights / YouTube

FC Bayern München / YouTube

While Alaba was generally perceived to have delivered a below-par performance along with the rest of his teammates at the Euros this summer, the star showed touches of class in Austria’s recent 2-2 World Cup qualification draw against Wales.

Unlike at club level where he tends to play left-back, Alaba usually operates in central midfield for Austria, and did so in their crucial qualifier last month.


How did he play in the Wales match?

Against Wales, the Austrians actually dominated much of the game and controlled the play, with the majority of their attacking moves going through Alaba.

For Austria, the Bayern Munich star is reminiscent of a stronger, more athletic and generally better version of Wes Hoolahan — he is the one player who can play a defence-splitting pass in an instant and create something out of nothing.

As with Hoolahan, not everything Alaba attempts comes off, but he is always trying to make something happen.


With Austria 1-0 down and Wales defending deep and getting plenty of bodies behind the ball, the hosts needed something special to unlock the visitors’ defence, and Alaba provided it.

Watch below as he produces an inch-perfect lofted through pass, which onrushing attacker Marco Arnautovic takes full advantage of with a clinical finish.

Giorgi Markoishvili / YouTube

Ireland simply cannot afford to allow Alaba time on the ball this evening — otherwise he will pick out passes such as the one below (though Arnautovic was ultimately adjudged to be offside on this occasion).


Yet as well as having a penchant for the spectacular, Alaba is also tactically intelligent. He doesn’t fall into the trap of always trying to play the Hollywood pass and instead has an innate understanding of when the simple ball is preferable to the elaborate one (see below).


Who are the other attacking threats for Austria?

SCHD / YouTube

Austria have two big men in attack. Basel’s Marc Janko (33) and Stoke’s Marco Arnautovic (27) with the latter playing to the left and the former the focal point of the attack. To the right is RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer (22), who is less physically imposing but very quick and clinical in front of goal, with Liverpool among the clubs to be linked with the youngster in recent times.

These three main attackers tend to tuck in, often enabling full-back Florian Klein (29) of Stuttgart to exploit space on the overlap.

Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor, two Wales full-backs who like to get forward, were pinned back for large sections of the Austria match, with Klein and to a lesser extent Tottenham’s Kevin Wimmer (23) keeping them busy in defence on both flanks.

On more than one occasion, right-back Klein got in behind the Wales defence and nearly created a goal (see below). So assuming they start, James McClean and Robbie Brady will need to be particularly wary of the threat down Austria’s right-hand side.


High press

One tactic Austria used with increasing success against Wales last month was the high press.

Chris Coleman’s side like to keep hold of the ball and try to play football when possible, but they were punished as a result of this tendency against Austria.

Arnautovic’s second goal stemmed from Austria’s players pressurising their opponents in Wales’ final third and forcing them into an error.

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This strategy paid dividends on a couple of occasions, as Wales struggled to play it out from the back with several Austrians consistently charging towards them, and so it was no surprise that the hosts finished the game with the overwhelming majority of the possession (62%).



Ireland will need to get the balance right this evening. Against Serbia, the Boys in Green famously completed just 94 passes and were under pressure for much of the game, ultimately escaping with a somewhat fortuitous draw.

This type of negativity would not be welcomed by most Irish fans this evening, but that said, the Boys in Green must learn from Wales’ mistakes and avoid the temptation to overplay it in dangerous areas.

The Austrians have the capacity to break rapidly, and are well capable of punishing any sloppiness in possession from Martin O’Neill’s men.


Austria played the better football against Wales, but the main reason why they had to be content with a draw was their fallibility at the back.

The second Wales goal came from a set piece and the Austrians struggled all night in this respect, despite the visitors spending the majority of the game on the backfoot.

For the first goal, Gareth Bale exposed Aleksandar Dragović’s lack of pace out wide. The Real Madrid star’s cross was only half cleared and Joe Allen smashed the ball home with a superb finish from the edge of the box.

FAWales / YouTube

The second Wales goal was even worse from a defensive viewpoint. Bale’s long-throw was flicked on by Sam Vokes and Wimmer failed to get tight enough to James Chester.

Chester’s header was saved by goalkeeper Robert Almer (who won’t play against Ireland due to injury), but the ball then rebounded back off the hapless Wimmer into the net.

It was not the only nervy moment for the Austrian defence, as Wales frequently caused panic owing to their obvious superiority at set pieces.


Ireland consequently will need to make good use of every opportunity they get for a free-kick or corner. Robbie Brady’s deliveries could be pivotal to the outcome of the game, while the likes of Jon Walters, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark and Jeff Hendrick (assuming they all play) will need to make their presence felt in the box.


Austria may not be in the best of form currently, but they are certainly more talented than their fourth-place standing in Group D suggests.

In David Alaba, they have the best player on the pitch capable of unlocking the Irish defence when given time and space, while the Boys in Green also need to be wary of the overlapping full-backs and the high-pressing tactics of the hosts.

If they can manage to do all that and exploit the Austrians’ weakness from set pieces, then they might just be able to claim a rare away win against a genuinely strong side who are 30th — three places above Ireland in the Fifa rankings — and who haven’t lost a home qualifier since the September 2012 defeat by Germany.

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