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Can Austria surprise us all at Euro 2016?

Thursday 9th June 2016
Excitement is in the air; the European Championship buzz is palpable. Pundits and fans are talking: England, Germany, England, France and “Oh haven't Belgium got a lovely team full of World Class players” but there's a corner of Group F which nobody seems to be discussing. There's a golden belt of title-winning players in one team. The Austrians have five top-tier Champions and have every right to think they can progress in this tournament.

The Austrians last appearance at a major tournament was eight years ago when they co-hosted this very competition with Switzerland. After that tournament, Austria slumped and became irrelevant to world football. That was until they appointed Swiss head coach, Marcel Koller. Since his appointment, Austria has only escalated up the FIFA World rankings, as high as their present position of tenth. That's right, the Austrians are statistically the tenth best national team in the world. The Austrians confirmed their attendance for France 2016 with relative ease, going unbeaten throughout the whole qualification campaign. Are Das Team the real deal, or do we have another Belgium on our hands?

Captaining the side is Leicester City left-back,  Christian Fuchs . The thirty-year old was an integral part of the Foxes and their title win throughout the whole season. His defensive dexterity saw the East Midlands team keep fifteen clean sheets through the campaign (second highest in the league). Fuchs has been a part of the Austrian national side since 2006, at present he's earned seventy-five caps. Christian has won arguably the richest domestic league title; he will bring a championship winning mentality to the squad.
Alongside Fuchs sits  Aleksandar Dragović,  as one of the centre-backs. Dragović is one of the most decorated players in the Austrian squad having won titles with Austria Wien, FC Basel, and his current club Dynamo Kyiv. He's famously won nine titles in just five years in Switzerland and Ukraine alone. That includes the Ukrainian Premier League title he won this season. He's been an anchor at the back for his respective teams and has been previously linked with a move to Manchester United. The Vienna-born defender will bring a wealth of triumphant experience to the squad; he'll be a key part of Austria's defence and staying in the trickier games.

David Alaba  comes into the international tournament off the back of a hugely successful season with Bayern Munich. He won both the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal titles as the Bavarian team achieved a domestic double. He's been named the country's best player consistently for the past five years and receives regular accolades from UEFA. Alaba gives Austria a lot of different options; being a diverse player. His career started as a midfielder with Wien but recently has been deployed as a left-back where he's been largely used with Bayern.
One of the few domestic-based players in the squad is  Valentino Lazaro,  he's also one of the youngest players in the squad. The twenty-year-old has played his part in Red Bull Salzburg's four league titles in the last five seasons. Despite his young age, he's amassed a lot of titles with the Austrian powerhouse club. Whilst he might not be the most important player in the national side, he has a winning mindset. A winning mentality can be contagious; giving him something to offer the team.  Even if he doesn't start, Koller has got a serial young winner on the bench and he's going to be itching to win.

The veteran striker,  Marc Janko , has again made the squad for the Austrians. The Viennese striker is known for his prolific goal scoring tally. He's scored twenty-six goals for his country in just fifty-one appearances. It's his eye for goal that has guided him to so many championships with Red Bull Salzburg, FC Porto and most recently FC Basel. This season his goals heavily contributed to FC Basel winning the Swiss Super League (for a seventh consecutive time).  Over the season he scored sixteen goals in just seventeen games; that's almost one goal per game. He brings a winning attitude and wealth of goals to the squad. Janko's status and longevity in the squad will allow him to influence and improve the younger players who are still developing at international level.
It's these champions that will be able to give Austria a winning ethos going into the group stage. There's no reason they cannot progress considering they share a group with Portugal (who haven't looked great recently), Iceland and Hungary. In addition to these championship winners, there are more players in the national pool which are very impressive who didn't pick up silverware this season: Arnautovic had a good year for Stoke City. Hinteregger played a large part of Borussia Monchengladbach's fruitful campaign. Sabitzer and Ilsanker both played for RB Leipzig and earned promotion to the Bundesliga.

Altogether the Austrians personnel look to be very successful with their clubs, so by proxy, there's the thought that they can replicate that with their nation. History is against them, as their best finish in this competition is an unimpressive, thirteenth place. The world of football awaits the Austrian champions and superstars; to see how they play as a collective unit. On paper, you could certainly back them.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.


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