John Fallon assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Ireland’s opponents...
David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
There’ll be one bona fide world-class player on the pitch this evening and he won’t be representing Ireland. Despite Alaba being only 24, he’s packed a lot into his career, including a Champions League triumph with Bayern Munich three years ago.
Ireland know full well the damage he’s capable of inflicting and the game comes at a time when the midfielder is shipping some flak about his contribution to the team.
If Martin O’Neill’s side can restrict his distribution from deep, as Serbia succeeded in doing last month, then his impact could be controlled. Allow him roam to pick up passes and Ireland could be in trouble.
Julian Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen)
Baumgartlinger is another reason why Ireland are likely to be without the ball for long periods in this qualifier. Alaba and his captain have formed a firm midfield axis for the Austrians, the nerve-centre of the team. This has been a big year for the Salzburg-born powerhouse, earning his move to Leverkusen from fellow Bundesliga outfit Mainz and becoming skipper of the national team in succession to the retired Christan Fuchs.
Back in the capital following defeat in Belgrade, he’ll be eager for his first competitive win since taking the armband and his influence could be crucial to the outcome.
Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
A man for the big occasion, Arnie will be enthused by the cacophony of noise inside the Ernst-Happel Stadium. The battle between the winger and Seamus Coleman promises to be the most intriguing of the contest and he’ll be confident of tormenting the Everton man after doing so against Wales and Serbia.
O’Neill will also have noticed Arnautovic’s penchant, both with Stoke and Austria, for drifting into a central role, using his power and pace to attack defenders.
Only for poor finishing in Belgrade, he’d have added to the brace buried in the draw against Wales. Beware Ireland.
Ramazan Özcan (Bayer Leverkusen)
A serious knee injury sustained by veteran goalkeeper Robert Almer against Wales has been the biggest setback of the campaign for Marcel Koller so far in terms of personnel.
Koller’s understudy Ozcan managed to keep the Welsh out in the half hour but he looked very jittery on his first competitive start for his country in Belgrade.
From suspect kick-outs to an inability to deal with crosses, the 32-year-old was a liability against Serbia. Ireland need to take advantage by testing the Leverkusen sub stopper with a couple of deliveries into the box early on.
Kevin Wimmer (Tottenham)
The modern-day Tottenham, competing for Champions League spots on an annual basis, seldom mess up in their recruitment and Wimmer’s acquisition last year may turn out good business. Like his displays for Spurs, however, Wimmer has endured a mixed bag of performances for his country. Technically proficient on the ball, the left-back is still struggling on the defensive side of the game, a deficiency which Dusan Tadic profited from four weeks ago.
Such was his shocker in Belgrade that calls for him to dropped, with Alaba reverting to that position, have been rife in Austria. He’s set to get one last chance this evening.
Marc Janko (Basel 1893)
Similar to Ireland, Austria are lacking options up front, meaning the 33-year-old Janko will lead the line.
Not blessed with great mobility or pace, Janko can be contained with relative ease by the Irish defence once there’s no repeat at the back of the horror show in Serbia.
Neither Michael Gregoritsch nor Lukas Hinterseer, though both in the Austria squad, have seriously challenged the stalwart for the sole striker’s slot and he’ll be their target man in Vienna.
Janko did score in Serbia but the dependency on Arnautovic to supply goals from the flank is a key component of this Austria side.
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