PARIS: Marcel Koller’s Austria have one “uncomfortable” last chance to salvage their Euro 2016 campaign in their final group game against Iceland at the Stade de France on Wednesday.
Touted as dark horses before the tournament, Austria have struggled to reproduce their impressive qualifying form and are bottom of Group F with just one point.
But after a 2-0 defeat to Hungary and goalless stalemate against Portugal, a victory over European Championship newcomers Iceland would send Austria through to the last 16.
Iceland also have ambitions of reaching the knockout phase and Koller, who faces mounting pressure despite signing a two-year extension in March, knows Austria face a real scrap to avoid elimination.
“We certainly can’t presume that the game against Iceland will be easier,” he said. “It will be a very uncomfortable game.
“They’re very disciplined, strong in the tackle and compact defensively as they’ve proved in their two games here.
“We need to create chances. We just need that last inch to score a goal. It doesn’t matter how it goes over the line; the main thing is that it goes over the line.”
Koller said he “won’t take any risks” with Zlatko Junuzovic as he recovers from ankle injury, but centre-back Aleksandar Dragovic is available again after serving a one-match ban.
David Alaba fired against the post inside the opening minute against Hungary in Austria’s first game, but the Bayern Munich star has struggled to impose himself since and was replaced after 65 minutes against Portugal.
“I’ve said it before: David is a player with an unbelievable amount of quality,” said Koller, springing to Alaba’s defence.
“At Bayern he played the most minutes in the last six months – over 2,000 minutes. No one else in our squad had that.
“It’s also a fact that every player cannot play at their absolute best every single game.”
Iceland, with a population of just 330,000, are the smallest nation ever to compete at the finals of major tournament and have acquitted themselves well in France.
After successive 1-1 draws with Portugal and Hungary, Iceland remain in control of their destiny and although they will progress if they avoid defeat to Austria, joint head coach Lars Lagerback is targeting a maiden victory.
“Our general attitude is always to go into every game trying to win it and in this situation, if we do that, we have a chance to end up in the first or second spot in the table,” said Lagerback.
Iceland skipper Aron Gunnarsson is desperate for the Nordic island minnows to extend their adventure with the reward of a last-16 clash against England a tantalising possibility.
“We fought hard to get to where we are. That’s not enough for us, we want to go through and I think everyone wants to stay here for a couple more weeks.”
Should Iceland finish second in the group they will meet Roy Hodgson’s England in Nice next Monday.
“I think it’s a dream for every Icelander. As a country we’ve always looked towards England in the finals.
“I think the Premier League is the most watched league in Iceland and playing them in the finals would be something special.” â€” AFP