Alaba inspires Austria


Alaba inspires Austria

The hosts succeeded where Ireland failed in March by punishing Sweden’s suspect defence to keep intact their hopes of featuring in Brazil next year at the expense of the Boys in Green.

This victory at the Ernst Happel Stadium was their third in their last four qualifiers, keeping them level with Giovanni Trapattoni’s side in second place of Group C on 11 points. Without an appearance at the biggest show in world football since the 1998 finals, there’s momentum growing around Austria’s bid to oust Sweden and Ireland for the play-off spot.

Germany, to whom they only lost 2-1 at home in September, are next up for Marcel Koller’s side on September 6 before what promises to a pivotal clash against Ireland four days later in Vienna.

Another miserable night for Sweden had started so promisingly. Johan Elmander’s return to the side in a lone striker’s role had the home defence rattled in the early stages and Alexander Kacaniklic was rampant on the left flank.

Inside the second minute, Fulham man Kacaniklic sought a penalty for a push from Gyorgy Garics while former Bolton forward Elmander smashed a glorious chance over the crossbar less than 60 seconds later.

Jonas Olsen was also wasteful on 11 minutes after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s knock-back from Kim Kallstrom’s deep free-kick didn’t get the proper connection six yards out from the West Brom defender.

The Swedish game-plan to neutralise Alaba’s impact by stationing Kallstrom on the playmaker was working a treat.

What they didn’t account for was a major defensive lapse on 25 minutes providing Austria with their first effort on goal from the penalty spot.

Robert Almer’s long kick-out was misjudged by the retreating Olsen, who let Martin Harnik slip behind him to lob the advancing Andreas Isaksson.

Once referee Gianluca Rocchi saw the effort bounce wide, he penalised the goalkeeper for clipping Harnik and Alaba drove the spot-kick down the middle for the opener.

Buoyed by that breakthrough, the enlivened home crowd bayed for more and the natives obliged.

They had to survive a scare first on 32 minutes when Kacaniklic’s rising 20-yard shot cleared the bar by a yard.

But, straight from the kick-out, Alaba fed Martin Hanrik on the right who cut in onto his stronger left-foot to deliver a low cross.

Just like his central-defensive partner has done six minutes earlier, Andreas Granqvist switched off momentarily to enable Mark Janko apply a diving header into the bottom corner.

While Alaba shone once more amid much acclaim, it was yet again a frustrating night for the other big name on show, Ibrahimovic.

That his first attempt on goal took 56 minutes to arrive summed up another night of woe on the international stage for the €30 million-rated talisman.

Eight minutes from time, he released Elmander to hook the ball past Robert Almer but that proved a mere consolation for the visitors.

A couple of penalty appeals by Granqvist and Ibrahimovic in stoppage time were ignored, as they yellow shirts swept forward in numbers.

Anything other than three points for the Austrians, however, would have been an injustice. Their lap of honour at the end, with the stellar Alaba up front and centre, was well deserved.

Ireland will have to deal with a wounded animal on September 6 when they welcome a Swedish side, who can go level again with Ireland and Austria on Tuesday with a win over the Faroe Islands.

AUSTRIA: Almer; Garics, Dragovic, Pogatetz (Prodl 29), Fuchs; Baumgartlinger, Alaba; Arnautovic, Junuzovic (Schiemer 75), Harnik; Janko (Weimann 46).

SWEDEN: Isaksson; Lustig, Olsson, Granqvist, Wendt; Elm (Svensson 60), Kallstrom (Toivonen); Larsson, Ibrahimovic, Kacaniklic; Elmander (Durmaz 84).

Referee: G Rocchi (Ita)

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