Favourable draw raises Austria expectations at Euro 2020

·3-min read

By Mark Gleeson

(Reuters) - Austria's poor showing at the last European Championship might have been sobering but a favourable draw means they again have high hopes of making a mark when Euro 2020 finally kicks off.

Austria have been paired with the seeded Netherlands in Group C but will expect to finish above North Macedonia and Ukraine to reach the knockout stage.

“The Netherlands are the favourites. The Ukraine remained unbeaten in qualifying and topped their group ahead of Portugal and Serbia" said coach Franco Foda.

"At the tournament, everything is possible and details will be decisive. We will do everything we can to qualify for the round of 16."

First priority for Austria, however, is to win a game. Their previous two appearances at the finals, as co-hosts in 2008 and in France in 2016, produced two drab draws and four defeats.

They had high hopes last time after an unbeaten run in the qualifiers with nine wins out of 10 and an eight-point gap over the chasing pack in their group. But in the finals they flopped.

Their opener this time is against debutants North Macedonia in Bucharest on June 13. Austria shared their qualifying group with the Macedonians and beat them home and away.

They follow this with matches against the Dutch in Amsterdam on June 17 and Ukraine, back in Bucharest, four days later.

There will be expectations that Austria can get the points that will see them advance to the last 16 for the first time.

Their squad is largely drawn from players at clubs in the Bundesliga in neighbouring Germany, with the likes of David Alaba, Aleksandar Dragovic, Stefan Ilsanker and Marcel Sabitzer among their more experienced contingent.

Captain Julian Baumgartlinger, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, is likely to profit from UEFA's decision to expand the size of squads from 23 to 26.

That means Foda can gamble on selecting him and give the 33-year-old added time to continue his recovery from a knee injury that has sidelined his skipper since January.

The same is true for Konrad Laimer of RB Leipzig, who has been out since September but is also earmarked for a return.

Forward Marko Arnautovic, who missed the start of the World Cup qualifiers in March because of coronavirus restrictions in China where he was playing at Shanghai Port, is likely to lead the attack but must prove his fitness.

Foda, a former Germany defender whose coaching career began in Austria, insists he wants an attacking approach.

"We want to play on the front foot, transition quickly, play in the direction of the opposition goal. We want to put the opponent under pressure early on," he said.

"We want to get possession quickly and, after winning the ball, play up top as quickly as possible. We want to be variable, flexible during games but most important is that we want good football and to score lots of goals."

(Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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