(So to Group 7 in my continuing series for "Football Is Coming Home". Serbia seem sure to advance. France are well positioned also. The rest are reliant on France falling over themselves. The golden era of Faroe Islands football may have passed.)
It is often forgotten that Austria has some football pedigree. The inter-war years saw Central Europe develop a contrasting style of play to the hoof and charge of the British game. Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians and the other nationalities and ethnic groups who made those countries dynamic and interesting, had fused football into a game based on narrow exchanges, firm organization and superior technical ability. It was known as the Danubian School.
Italy was taking notes. Austrian coaches were demonstrating the finer details on chalkboards at clubs all over the country. The cappuccinos kept on coming. Train timetables were reorganized. And the best refs always arrived on time.
The Czechs and Hungarians each fell to the Azzuri (pictured left, saluting) in the ’34 final and ’38 final, respectively. Forgotten finalists. Even more forgotten were the Austrians. Forgotten semi finalists. There was the potential of an Austrian Swan Song in 1954, but the Austrians found their German cousins waiting for them in the semis. Germany was now in the business of mastering football.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
And so to the dark cellar of the Austrian game, where Algerian hopes have languished since 1982. It is painful to recall the infamous, fixed fixture between (West) Germany and Austria on June 25th in España ’82.
Algeria had given the Germans one hell of a beating in the opening group game, 2-1, lost 2-0 to the Austrians, but finished with a flourish beating Chile 3-2. Unfortunately for Algeria, their Chilean fixture took place the day before Austria were scheduled to play the Germans in Gijón. An Austrian victory would see Algeria advance, as would a German win by 2 goals or more. The Austrians and Germans had calculated a 1-0 German win would see both German speaking nations through. And so it was. The match was a farce. The ignominious Germans scored quickly and then both teams sat back and waited for the final whistle.
Can Austrian football ever distinguish itself again?
The Austrian game is now only marginally more exciting than watching grass grow, with a 1-1 draw in Tórshavn their most uninspired performance of the campaign thus far.
Austria are three points behind France and have played a game more. Qualification seems improbable. However, the French are somehow still managed by Raymond Domenech. Really. It’s true. And the French still have a very difficult trip down the Danube to Belgrade. If Austria can win three very winnable fixtures (at home to the Faroe Islands, away in Romania, and at home to Lithuania) they may arrive in St. Denis in October with qualification at stake.
If it comes to that, I may end up “rooting” for Austria. Algeria currently lead Group C in the African qualifiers. The Desert Foxes have waited nearly 30 years for justice. I would get a macabre joy from watching Austria getting annihilated by Algeria. I am sure many Algerians would enjoy the match also, but many more would probably prefer their Foxes have a chance to face the flat football nation is now France.