Last chance saloon for Austria and their under-pressure manager Koller

The Swiss coach says he has been in the business long enough to deal with situations like tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland.

Koller during last November's defeat to Ireland.
Koller during last November's defeat to Ireland.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE NIGHT THAT Ireland recorded their first-ever win in Vienna last November, Sebastian Prodl was absent due to injury.

Having faced the Boys in Green in 2013 and with two seasons under his belt in the Premier League, however, the Watford defender should have a fair idea what to expect from Sunday’s opponents.

And 29-year-old Prodl, who joked that he was selected for this evening’s pre-match press conference due to his ability to speak English fluently, couldn’t help himself using a couple of tired clichés — explaining how he envisaged a very “British” and “physical” encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

“Tomorrow is going to be a crucial game, especially for us,” Prodl said in Dublin. “We need to get points out of this game to still be able to dream of going to the World Cup next year.

“Especially for me, it’s going to be a huge game. It’ll be a very physical game for all of us. I have improved in terms of playing physically over the last two years at Watford in the Premier League, so I know what to expect here.

“I also think and hope I can be an influence for my team-mates tomorrow. We all know it’s going to be hard – we know from when we played here before [in 2013] and got a lucky draw in the last minute.

“We need to do it again, get a point out of the game, to have a chance.”

Prodl wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s a must-win game for Austria, but anything less than three points would leave them with wafer-thin hopes of finishing in the two places in Group D.

Much has been made of the fact that manager Marcel Koller is without a large chunk of his first-team squad for the visit but Prodl believes others can step up on Sunday.

“It’s up to the players who are here tomorrow,” he added. “If we just focus on the players who are missing, I think it would be the wrong signal for ourselves, for Ireland, for everyone.

It’s a big chance for those players who will get the chance to play tomorrow. Most of them have been complaining in the last couple of years about not playing so much, so now it’s time to prove they are capable of competing at the highest level and being responsible for our country.”

As Austria’s one world-class talent, the levels of expectation weigh heavily on the shoulders of David Alaba.

Without the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Marcel Sabitzer and Marc Janko, the nation will be looking to the Bayern Munich man to create a moment of brilliance now more than ever.

“He’s one of our leaders,” Prodl says of his team-mate. “We have still got some leaders on the pitch tomorrow, although some are missing — just to name one, Marko Arnautovic, for example, who knows the game here.

“There’s not especially too much pressure on David, to be honest, because I think we all know what to expect from him and he knows exactly what to expect from himself.

“As long as he leads us in his position, I think everyone can follow, everyone will follow. But it’s not only on him. What has made us strong in the last few years is that there have been 14 or 15 players who have played very strongly alongside.

“It’s all about the team tomorrow and if one player is doing exceptional things, we will be pleased.”

Manchester United v Watford - Premier League - Old Trafford Austria and Watford defender Sebastian Prodl. Source: EMPICS Sport

Although Koller refused to reveal where Alaba would be playing, he is expected to line out in midfield.

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On more than one occasion, the Swiss coach was asked for his thoughts on the recent rallying cry from assistant boss Roy Keane, who stated that Ireland will be “going into battle” on Sunday.

“I think what Roy Keane said was meant as motivation for the home team and, of course, they will try to play hard and physically at home,” was his reply.

I don’t think you should use the word ‘war’ about football, but of course I understand that Roy Keane wants to motivate his team and it’s important for Austria to know how to fight that.”

Defeat for Austria would kill off their chances of making next year’s finals in Russia and, quite possibly, also end Koller’s spell in charge of the team.

But the former Grasshoppers, FC Koln and VfL Bochum boss says he’s been around the block long enough to deal with scenarios like this.

He added: “If you look back, there have already been many situations in my career where I have felt some pressure, and of course Austria are some points behind Ireland and Serbia, so we want to get back to business and get as many points as possible.

“But I have also been in the business long enough to think positive. The team is well prepared for tomorrow, but I am also aware that the team has to deliver and prove it’s qualities.”

Austria’s probable team to play Ireland: Linder (Eintracht Frankfurt); Dragovic (Bayer Leverkusen), Prodl (Watford), Hinteregger (Augsburg);  Lazaro (Salzburg), Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen), Alaba (Bayern Munich), Kainz (Werder Bremen); Harnik (Hannover), Junuzovic (Werder Bremen); Burgstaller (Schalke).

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Ben Blake

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