Match preview:Austria aiming to repeat history
Thirty years on from Austrian football's most famous day Josef Hickersberger has history on his side when his team meet Germany in Vienna for a place in the UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-finals, although the coach is looking elsewhere for inspiration.
A 3-2 win in Cordoba in the 1978 FIFA World Cup knocked out then holders West Germany, Austria's sole victory in ten competitive fixtures against West and the unified Germany. Much has been made of that triumph – in which Hickersberger played – in the build-up to a game that will decide second place in Group B, yet the coach said: "Too much has been said about Cordoba. For me, history is repeating itself. In 1989, we played the German Democratic Republic in Vienna in a decisive qualifier for the 1990 World Cup and won [3-0]. The names are different now, but we're looking forward to the match."
'Alles oder nichts'
The front cover of the Kurier newspaper's magazine supplement bears the simple headline "Alles oder nichts", and for Austria the equation is equally straightforward: win or join co-hosts Switzerland in making an early exit from their own party. With the Austrians having lost 3-0 to Germany in February and being without a win against these opponents since 1986, that may look a tall order but Hickersberger is full of confidence. "We're in excellent shape," he said. "We're better than we were in February and we have a decent chance. This is the biggest match of my life and it will be the biggest match of all time if we win."
Ivica Vastic's added-time penalty snatched a draw against Poland on Thursday, when Germany lost 2-1 to Croatia, and the Austria coach – missing only the suspended Sebastian Prödl – has seen enough in the first two games to be optimistic. "Germany weren't that good against Croatia and they have problems. One or two players are injured, they're not playing that well and we have home advantage. I'd put our chances at 40 per cent – people might think I'm pessimistic but that's quite good. The important thing is we have a chance and if you'd told me that a year ago I'd have been more than grateful."
'Push the limit'
Germany coach Joachim Löw has encouraged his players to "avoid pointing the finger at each other" since that defeat by Croatia and is anticipating a positive reaction. "I promise you the team will play differently," he said. "Thirty million people will be watching in Germany and we have to win for them and for our nation. The match against Croatia is a thing of the past. We'll have to push to the limit because Austria have improved in the last few weeks and months. They're a team of fighters but we will go the extra mile."
Marcell Jansen misses out with a shoulder problem while Bastian Schweinsteiger is suspended following his red card on Thursday, although top scorer Lukas Podolski (foot), Philipp Lahm (calf and shin) and Heiko Westermann (hand) are all poised to play, with the last-mentioned wearing a protective cast. Löw believes his side will meet expectations, adding: "A little pressure doesn't hurt – my team will deal with that. If we play well, there's no need to be afraid of our opponents. We'll play our game, impose our style and show what we can do."