Road to the Finals
As co-hosts of the competition with neighbouring Switzerland, the Austrian team have not played a competitive match since they beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their last qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup, a tournament which they failed to reach.
They have never qualified for a European Championship final before, and in this respect they will also be joined by tournament newcomers Poland who have been put in the same group.
Since their last competitive fixture, they have played in 22 international friendly games, winning six of them, losing 11 and drawing seven times. With such statistics, it is no wonder that many have already written them off from the competition.
This includes a large proportion of their fans, who decided that their performances were so bad that they did not deserve a place in EURO 2008, going so far as to sign a petition against their inclusion.
Things did not get off to a good start at the beginning of their campaign of friendly warm-ups, losing their first three games against Canada, Croatia and Hungry. They managed to get their first draw against Costa Rica in September 2006, but it was followed by yet another loss, this time to Venezuela.
Finally, on 6th October, they managed to claim their first victory, albeit against the minnows of Liechtenstein. Not a fantastic result in itself, it did however set them off on a spree of wins as they went on to see the year out in style by beating co-hosts Switzerland 2-1, which was followed by a victory over Trinidad & Tobago, who they beat 4-1.
However, the following year was one to forget. The team had to wait until their tenth match, on 17th October 2007, to get their first win when they beat Ivory Coast 3-2. Although a great win against tough opposition, it had come far too late. They had already lost to France, Scotland and Chile, and had built up a number of unimpressive draws.
A loss to England and a draw to Tunisia were all that they could muster at the end of a very unsatisfactory year, and they went into 2008 needing a few clear wins to increase the morale of the team and the fans.
Unfortunately, this has failed to happen. In the two games that they have played so far this year, they have lost to Germany 3-0, and to the Netherlands 4-3. Although two tough opponents, they will be looking for better results in their last two friendly games against Nigeria and Malta in order to increase their confidence before the tournament kicks off.
EURO 2008 will not be Hickersberger’s first major tournament with the Austrian side, having previously guided them to the 1990 World Cup. However, he will be hoping to get some better results than they managed on that occasion, when they went out in the first round.
A successful footballer before he turned to coaching, playing for FK Austria Wien and the Austrian national team, Hickersberger played in the 1978 World Cup, during which he was involved in a 3-2 win over West Germany.
Soon after his playing career had come to an end, he turned to coaching and was quick to get involved with the national team. Starting with the Under-21 squad, he soon progressed to the senior team in 1988, leading them to the World Cup and their disappointing exit.
Things did not go too well for Austria after the competition, and in their first qualifying game for the 1992 European Championship, they lost 1-0 to the Faroe Islands in one of the most embarrassing results in the nation’s history, which led to Hickersberger’s dismissal.
Going back to club management, he took charge of various clubs in the Middle East for a number of years, before returning to Austria to manage Rapid Wien, winning the league and getting them to the group stages of the Champions League.
This success saw him reinstated as the national coach in January 2006, with the aim of preparing the team for, and leading them through, their home tournament.
Ones to watch
Roland Linz – forward
One of the more well-known members of the squad, Linz made his first appearance for the national team in 2002. He has enjoyed tremendous success at club level in Austria, winning the league and the Austria Cup with Austria Wien. Currently playing for Sporting Braga in the Portuguese league, he is an effective goal-scorer who will be hoping to add a bit of magic to the host’s campaign.
Sebastian Prödl – defender
Previously playing for the Under-20 national side, Prödl was one of the key players in the squad who took them to the semi-finals of the 2007 Under-20 World Cup in Canada. A solid defender, he has also proved that he has a keen eye for goals, scoring the two against the Netherlands in their recent 3-2 defeat. A the young age of 19, he will be hoping to prove his worth at the tournament, before moving to new club SV Werder Bremen when it is over.
Martin Harnik – forward
Harnik is one of the new crop of players that Hickersberger has been introducing to the team over the last two years, and at only 20 years old he has already proved that he can shine. Making his debut against the Czech Republic on August 22nd 2007, he managed to score only six minutes after coming on as a substitute, and it is this ability to surprise that will keep opposition defenders with a wary eye on the young forward.
As the weakest members of Group B, the fans will be hoping that their home advantage can see the team through to the quarter-finals, but this will be a tough feat.
They have had to endure some bad results over the past two years, which has had an effect on the team morale, but it has to be said that they have played some tough teams during that time.
The main tactics have focused on bringing in a new crop of young, talented players, who will hopefully gel before the tournament kicks off. But despite this new breed being brought in, it is likely that the team will also benefit from some more experienced players, with Ivica Vastic set to make a possible inclusion in the squad, despite being 38 years old.
Current FIFA ranking: 101