Within a World Cup qualification group of fine margins, Austria were the nation to lose most ground on the three other main contenders for top spot during the past five days.
After coming from behind twice against Wales to eke out a 2-2 draw on Thursday, they were close to repeating the trick four days later only for Dusan Tadic’s late winner to inflict upon them a 3-2 defeat.
Marcel Koller’s side face Ireland in Vienna on November 12 and recent history bodes well for the hosts. Late goals home and away during the last World Cup qualifiers earned them four points off Ireland, leading to Giovanni Trapattoni being sacked three years ago this week.
Stoke City playmaker Marko Arnautovic — whose father is Serbian — could easily have added to the brace he netted against Wales but for poor finishing and the post denying him against Serbia.
He’s determined to get their quest to reach a first World Cup finals since 1998 back on track when Martin O’Neill’s side roll into town.
“There are seven more games to go and the Austrian media have written us off,” blasted the 27-year-old.
“I don’t think it is over. We created enough chances against Serbia to have won the game. All three of their goals came on the counter-attack, so we will have to be more compact in future.
“Usually it is the away team operating on the counterattack but this wasn’t the case.
“I am not going to sugarcoat anything. We, as a team, are responsible for the defeat rather than any one or two individuals.
“There is always the next game and it is at home to Ireland. We know them well and I expect us to get the right result and keep us challenging for World Cup qualification.”
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich star David Alaba insists Austria’s ambitions will perish unless they cut on their defensive mistakes. Six goals conceded in their opening three games have raised major question marks over Austria’s defensive capabilities. It has led to calls for Alaba, who plays in midfield for his country, to be redeployed to his natural position of left-back. Tottenham’s Kevin Wimmer struggled in that role against both Wales and Serbia.
“It is almost impossible to get anything from a game you concede three goals in,” noted Alaba. “I think we controlled the game for long periods but got caught by Serbia’s swift counters. There are improvements to be made and we’ve bounced back in the past to get a good result in the next game.
“This is a very tight group, in which all teams feel they can beat each other. We wanted more than one point from the two games but there are lots of points to be played for over the next seven games.”
Serbia, meanwhile, hold the upperhand in the group, leading Ireland on goal difference. They’ve yet to play the four best teams in the group away from home but in Tadic possess a player in his peak and capable of continuing to torment defences.
The Southampton man’s name was chanted around the Red Star Stadium on Sunday, a unique honour bestowed on a player with three goals from the opening three games.
“Tadic was Serbia’s biggest threat,” admitted a weary Wimmer after his man-marking mission went awry. “In the end, we tried to double-mark because, if he’s given any bit of space, his danger with passes or shots is incredible.”
Tadic’s surge in Serbia’s success is all the more remarkable given he quit the international team just five months ago under the previous manager Radavon Curcic.
Under Slavoljub Muslin, the coach who has gone six games unbeaten since taking charge, the 27-year-old has excelled and is basking in his new-found status as the hero of Serbian football.
“I almost burst into tears when the whole stadium started singing my name on Sunday,” he admitted.
“It doesn’t matter who’s getting the assists and the goals, the important thing is that we are winning.”