The Austrian national football team wants to follow suit on Monday (8.45 p.m. / live ORF 1). In the second game of the European Championship qualifier again in Linz against Estonia, the ÖFB selection is just as much a favorite as they were in the opening game against Azerbaijan (4:1). The Austrians are aiming for their fourth international win in a row. David Alaba returns to the squad. Team boss Ralf Rangnick didn’t even want to rule out the ÖFB captain being in the starting lineup on Sunday.
“We will decide at short notice tomorrow whether he will play from the start or come off the bench,” said Rangnick about Alaba. The Real Madrid pro resumed team training on Wednesday after a month’s break due to a thigh muscle injury, but missed the game against Azerbaijan. Now his 99th international match awaits the 30-year-old. Alaba: “I feel very good, but I don’t know and don’t think it’ll be enough for 90 minutes.”
There are also question marks over the appearances of central defender Gernot Trauner and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer. Both suffered knocks on the knee against Azerbaijan and skipped the final training session in Windischgarsten on Sunday. According to Rangnick, both will only be clear on the day of the game. “It’s also a question of pain and pain tolerance.”
Sabitzer had impressed with two goals and one assist at the start of qualifying. Should the Manchester United legionnaire fail, Cologne’s Dejan Ljubicic would be the first alternative in central midfield. If both Alaba and Sabitzer cannot start, according to Rangnick Leipzig’s Konrad Laimer would lead the ÖFB selection as captain – for the first time in his career. “But I don’t assume that both of them will not be on the pitch,” said the team boss.
It will be Rangnick’s tenth game as ÖFB coach. His record of four wins and four losses in a draw so far could turn positive. In the Nations League last year you could have scored more points, the German reminded. “Now it’s clear: At the latest when the qualifying for the EURO starts, it’s also important that the results are right.” That was the case recently. Victories against Andorra (1-0), Italy (2-0) and Azerbaijan. The ÖFB team last achieved four or more complete successes, namely five, in autumn 2020.
Rangnick didn’t want to compare the game with the Andorra game in Malaga in November, in which the Austrians had found it extremely difficult – even if the Estonians were also faced with an opponent with a five-man defense. “Estonia has more quality from the individual players,” emphasized the 64-year-old. “We expect a different game. They didn’t play extremely defensively, but they kept trying to put pinpricks and come on the counterattack.”
The ÖFB team last won the first two games of a European Championship or World Cup qualification in 2010 (2-0 against Kazakhstan, 3-0 against Azerbaijan). If this succeeds again, the Austrians would gain a three-point lead at the top of Group F – and take this lead into a direct duel with group favorites Belgium on June 17 in Brussels.
“At the end of the day it’s up to us,” said Rangnick. “If we do our best and put our game on the pitch, I’m convinced we’ll win the game.” Keeping your feet on the gas, as was the case against Azerbaijan even when they were in the lead, is a requirement. “We don’t have to take into account a game that might take place three days later. But I’m assuming that the lads will enjoy the way they play so much that they’ll keep going full throttle anyway.”
According to ÖFB information, 500 remaining tickets were still available for the game in Linz’s Raiffeisen Arena on Sunday afternoon. The association claims to have drawn its conclusions from the long backlog of admission controls at the start of the year on Friday. “It wasn’t all optimal,” said Bernhard Neuhold, Managing Director of ÖFB Wirtschaftsbetriebe GmbH. One is already in dialogue with the local security service provider. “We will make adjustments to solve this better.”