by Tom Lees - 26th March 2016
Marcel Koller's squad remained undefeated in qualifying, can they carry on that good form in France?
With the 2016 European Championships now just a few months away, here at FanFormation, we will be taking a close look at each Nation competing and how they fare once the big event in France kicks off. As part of our pre-tournament preview, we will be going through each Country and highlighting three of the youngsters, on the fringes of selection, who will be hoping to make their Nations final squad.
Austria are under the spotlight today, having successfully qualified for the tournament for the first time they will be hoping of performing better than in 2008 when as a host nation they failed to make it past the group stage.
Austria were outstanding during the qualifying games for the tournament, remaining unbeaten and topping their group by 8 clear points. Under coach Marcel Koller they have become a real force and have a squad of talented players in their prime, with an underlying group of youngsters ready to break through to join them.
Already in the squad is Martin Hinteregger of Borussia Mönchengladbach, a solid centre back who provides great back up for the established names of Aleksandar Dragovic and Sebastian Prödl. In David Alaba they have possibly the finest left back in World football, and such is his quality that he is often utilised in a midfield position for the national team. In attacking areas Marko Arnautovic and Martin Harnik are the established names, but exciting youngster Marcel Sabitzer of RasenBallsport Leipzig has shown he has the quality to be a big star for his nation and will surely make the squad.
Apart from these names, who are the youngsters on the fringes of selection and hopeful of making Marcel Koller’s final squad?
Centre back Kevin Wimmer has had to patiently wait for his chances since joining Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2015, as established pairing Jan Vertoghen and Toby Alderweireld have proven to be a great defensive unit. However, when called upon the young Austrian has not let anybody down and proven to a more than capable defensive option for coach Pochettino to call upon. Strong in the tackle, comfortable on the ball and with good positional awareness, Wimmer has shown that he has the potential to grow into an excellent centre half in the future. He’s also shown an ability to cover in full back options and this lends weight to his claims in the Austrian finals squad this summer.
Wimmer began his professional career with LASK Linz in the Austrian second tier, having come through the club’s youth system. He would spend one full season at Linz before making the move to second tier German side FC Köln in July 2012. During his first season at the club his first team opportunities were a little hard to come by, but the following season Wimmer was a major part of the defensive unit that secured FC Köln the 2. Bundesliga title and promotion to the Bundesliga. A division record was set by Köln that season for least goals conceded, which Wimmer was a big part in helping to achieve. His performances that season led to his debut for the Austrian national team, an early cap that the defender would have to wait two years to add to.
During FC Köln’s season back in the Bundesliga, Kevin Wimmer again was hugely impressive against some of the best forwards in Europe. Again the defensive unit was setting records and Wimmer was voted the seventh best defender in the league by German magazine ‘Kicker’. It was these displays that attracted the attention of Tottenham Hotspur in 2015 and although he has had a relatively quiet beginning to his career in London, he has shown his class when called upon and looks set for big things. Internationally his future also looks bright, now back in the Austrian national team again he’ll be keen to add to his 2 appearances for his Country and make the trip to France this summer. He may not be the first name on the selectors list but his ability to cover all across the defensive line with quality should give him the edge in selection.
Young attacking midfielder Alessandro Schöpf has shown great form in every season since turning professional, in a career where seemingly he had to take one step backwards to make two steps forward. Now after a recent transfer to FC Schalke 04 in the German Bundesliga it seems that he is on the cusp of becoming a big part of the Austrian national team.
Beginning his professional career at Bayern Munich, where he had joined the junior ranks in 2009, Schöpf gained his playing time for the Bayern second side in the regional leagues. He showed a great eye for goal for the second team and featured in over 50 games for the side, but was not given the opportunity to progress into the Bayern Munich first team. Instead in the summer of 2014 the youngster transferred to second tier German side 1.FC Nuremberg where he would show great quality, playing in over 50 games for the club with a goal scoring record comparable with a striker. After a season and a half at Nuremberg, Schalke secured his signature for around €5 million and he has performed well in the Bundesliga since.
A two footed attacking midfielder, Schöpf has a direct style of play and quick footwork that sees him joining the attack as often as possible. He has great composure with his finishing and a natural instinct to find space on the pitch. Most commonly he is seen playing in a central role linking the midfield with the forward line, but can also operate on the flanks if required. Although he is yet to feature for the Austrian national team, he has been a regular at the youth age levels and is currently a big star in the Under 21 setup with an impressive scoring record. The move to Schalke is sure to enhance his chances of making the squad that travels to France this summer and his introduction to the squad may come along in the warm up fixtures.
Valentino Lazaro was seen as the big wonder kid of Austrian football in 2014, with rumours linking his signature with Europe’s elite clubs it seemed he was set for superstardom. No move came about, but Lazaro was showing impressive form for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg as he helped them achieve back to back league and cup doubles. He was also awarded his senior Austrian debut in 2014 aged only 18, and it seemed he was going to be one of the major players as the squad looked to qualify for the European Championships in France. However, his career progression has stalled a little since then, although still a regular in the Salzburg squad his performances have dipped and this has resulted in his position in the national team coming under threat. In fact, he has only added a further 4 caps to his name since his national debut in May 2014 and is now featuring for the Under 21 side once again.
A pacey skilful wide man, with an eye for goal and the ability to beat a man, Lazaro has star quality and is similar in ways to Raheem Sterling. Ironically Sterling also burst onto the scene as an exciting teenager before having a season or two where his progress was challenged, then he finally kicked on to live up to the early hype, Lazaro will be looking to follow in those footsteps and push on once more. That early hype was created due to his performances for the Austrian youth national team, and furthered as he progressed from the Salzburg youth team into the professional ranks. He is a player of undoubted quality and great potential, but if he is to make the squad for this summer’s Championships he’ll need a strong end to the season at club level.
OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE
Hoffenheim left back Christoph Martschinko has been playing well on loan at Austria Vienna, with regular first team action and will be on hand if the established full backs are forced to miss out on the tournament. He has vast experience for the national Under 21 side and the selectors will have no hesitancy in calling him up if need be. Likewise, his Austria Vienna team mate Raphael Holzhauser has great Under 21 exposure in the central of midfield, and although uncapped at senior level provides a real option for the selectors if experienced heads are unable to travel.
In the attacking midfield positions Louis Schaub has shown great potential for Rapid Vienna, but is probably below the pecking order to Werder Bremen’s Florian Grillitsch who has proven a capability to play in a stronger league and has a great goal scoring record for the national youth sides. Grillitsch will be confident of at least making it to a pre-tournament squad and if given a chance could force his way into final selection.
On the wings Michael Gregoritsch of Hamburg has experienced good playing time in the German Bundesliga and has an outstanding goal scoring record for the Under 21’s national team with 20 goals in 24 appearances. Whereas Rapid Vienna pair Florian Kainz and Philipp Schobesberger have already been called up to the national team in the past though neither has cemented his place in the squad completely. Out of the three Gregoritsch is probably most deserving of a chance but all three will be reliant on the misfortune of others to make it to the finals squad. In attack Marco Djuricin is currently on loan at Brentford from Red Bull Salzburg, and although he has a couple of international appearances to his name already will have to improve his goal scoring form in England if he is to make the Austria squad for the Championships.
That was our look at the youngsters hoping to feature for Austria in France this summer, how do you think they will do in the competition? Do you think these youngsters will make the final selection? Let us know in the comments section below.
Austria are drawn in Group F with Portugal, Iceland and Hungary and many expect them to rival the Portuguese for top spot in the group. Qualification to the knock out stages has to be the target for the Austrians and they begin their campaign against Hungary in Bordeaux on June 14th. A strong start will be required to set the tone for what they hope is a successful Championships.