Republic of Ireland’s slim hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup were dashed after David Alaba once again struck late against Giovanni Trapattoni’s side to earn Austria three crucial points with a 1-0 victory at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion on Tuesday evening.
The 21-year-old, who broke Irish hearts with an injury time equaliser back in March, proved to be the difference in a game largely bereft of any real quality as he struck six minutes from time in Vienna.
With their prospects of securing a place in Brazil and manager’s job hanging by a thread, the Boys in Green knew nothing less than three points would be enough but failed to create any meaningful opportunities before Alaba pounced on Marc Wilson’s loose clearance to clinch all three points for the hosts.
The defeat is sure to signal the end of Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure with the Italian expected to pay for a turbulent twelve months and another unsuccessful qualifying campaign while Austria’s chances of qualifying for their first World Cup since 1998 have been enhanced greatly with a couple of games remaining.
With both sides needing a victory to keep their World Cup hopes alive, both managers opted to make changes from their respective defeats to Germany and Sweden. The hosts were boosted by the return of Julian Baumgartlinger, who missed Friday’s loss in Berlin through suspension, while Werder Bremen defender Sebastian Prodl and Guido Burgstaller were also re-called.
Trapattoni, not surprisingly, made just the two changes with one of those enforced as Paul Green replaced the injured Glenn Whelan and Anthony Pilkington starting on the left wing in place of James McClean.
Just as they did against Sweden in Dublin, the Boys in Green saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges and started in the ascendancy but once again looked devoid of any real quality in the final third. After a bright opening for the visitors, a scrappy midfield battle ensued as both sets of players conceded possession at regular intervals.
It wasn’t until the twenty-first minute that either side managed to put together a meaningful attack together but Shane Long couldn’t get on the end of Walters’ cross, albeit he had strayed offside, after the Stoke man had dispossessed Prodl on the left.
The Austrian defence, who have conceded just eight goals during the qualification campaign, looked vunerable against the long ball and David Forde’s innocuous free-kick sailed over Christian Fuchs but Robbie Keane’s cross come shot travelled harmlessly across goal.
As the half wore on and the rain continued to fall in Vienna, the game began to open up as both sides searched for the vital opening goal. However, it was Ireland who continued to look more likely to break the deadlock as Pilkington shot just wide of Almer’s upright after determined build-up by Long.
The 50,000 home fans came alive ten minutes before the break when Fuchs set Bayern Munich speedster David Alaba free but his stinging left-footed effort was well turned around the post by Forde before the Millwall ‘keeper was quickly off his line to deny Martin Harnick.
In an attempt to gain control of proceedings, Marcel Koller introduced Christoph Leitgeb for the ineffectual Kavlak but the substitution did little to alter the flow of the game as both sides continued to attack at will in search of all three points.
Long-range efforts from West Brom striker Long and then Marc Wilson hinted at the visitors’ desperation but hardly threatened Almer in the Austrian goal before John O’Shea was forced off with an ankle injury. Pilkington showed glimpses of his club form during his full debut and nearly created the opening shortly after the hour mark but his low cross was cut out by Fuchs at the near post.
Despite their dominance, the Boys in Green should have found themselves behind with twenty minutes remaining but Aston Villa striker Andreas Weimann could only fire straight at Forde from the penalty area – adding to the frustration of the home fans.
The hosts began to turn the screw as the Irish defence came under increasing pressure and had Seamus Coleman to thank for keeping their inferiorily ranked opponents at bay with a superb double-block when Harnik expected the net to bulge.
However, the pressure eventually told as Wilson failed to deal with Fuch’s cross from the left, allowing Alaba time and space to compose himself before smashing past the helpless Forde into the roof.
Marcel Koller’s side now sit three points behind second-placed Sweden in Group C, while Ireland are a further three points adrift and effectively out of the running.