There is optimism that Jon Walters will be able to resume training tomorrow after a rest day for the Irish squad today.
The Stoke striker was a conspicuous absentee from the public training session in front of hordes of excited children at the Aviva Stadium yesterday but that was being described as a precautionary move in response to his picking up a knock to his knee.
The 33-year-old was able to put in a session in the gym, however, and while he will continue to be closely monitored by the team’s medical staff, there appears to be confidence in the camp at this point that his involvement in Sunday’s game against Austria is not under threat.
Sources also played down the sight of Stephen Ward leaving the Aviva pitch yesterday with an ice pack strapped to his knee. This was being described as routine procedure for a knock he picked up during the training session and it was pointed out that, encouragingly, he was afterwards able to put in his own session at the gym.
While Martin O’Neill will be hoping that neither player suffers a setback between now and Sunday’s World Cup qualifier at the Aviva, his Austrian counterpart, Marcel Koller, has already been hit by yet another withdrawal from his squad for the game, with confirmation that veteran striker Marc Janko is ruled out.
The 33-year-old, who only finalised a move from FC Basel to Sparta Prague on Tuesday, is suffering with tonsillitis and won’t be in Dublin trying to atone for missing a late sitter in the reverse fixture last November which Ireland won 1-0.
Janko sits joint-fourth in the all-time scoring charts for his country, with 28 goals in 61 internationals, and was certain to start Sunday’s qualifier as the lone frontman. His withdrawal from the panel yesterday means all four of Austria’s attackers in the line-up from the defeat to Ireland are unavailable. Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic is suspended while Alessandro Schoepf and Marcel Sabitzer, whose chip rebounded off the Ireland crossbar with the game scoreless, are sidelined through injury.
Under-pressure boss Koller yesterday drafted in Dani Alar from Strum Graz to deputise but the likely replacement for Janko up front will be Guido Burgstaller, the 28-year-old Schalke striker who spent a brief stint at Cardiff City. He is still waiting for his first international goal after 10 caps.
Better news for Sunday’s visitors, who trail table-toppers Ireland and Serbia by four points at the midway point of the campaign, is the return to fitness of Bayern Munich powerhouse David Alaba. The Austrian team’s world-class star had been nursing a knee complaint but completed another day of full training in Vienna yesterday.
“The knee feels good and we’ll be ready for Ireland on Sunday,” said the 24-year-old. “It is true that our team is under pressure in this campaign but we all have our pressures at club level too. We haven’t decided what approach to take against Ireland but victory and the three points is our only goal.”
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