Austria midfielder Stefan Ilsanker is baffled by criticism of David Alaba ahead of his country’s concluding Euro 2016 Group F match against Iceland.
The Bayern Munich defender, whose versatility sees him deployed in a central midfield role at international level, was a star performer as Austria completed a successful qualifying campaign.
His influence has been somewhat becalmed in France, since hitting the post during the opening minute against Hungary. Austria’s neighbours would run out surprise 2-0 winners.
Injury problems persuaded coach Marcel Koller to push Alaba forward into the more advanced number 10 role for Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Portugal, with the results mixed at best before the 23-year-old was substituted midway through the second half.
Alaba’s trials are in many ways a reflection of Austria’s fortunes at Euro 2016, with the stellar form of nine wins from 10 qualifiers subsiding to one point and no goals in two outings.
A host of missed Portuguese chances, most notably among them a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty that thudded into the base of the post, were responsible for Austria getting on the board last time out at the Parc des Princes.
The congested nature of Group F – three draws from the four matches so far – means victory over Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side would guarantee Austria a last-16 berth should Portugal beat Hungary.
With the stakes high, Ilsanker believes it is time to lay off Alaba.
“He is the best player in Austria for ages. No one can win a game alone,” the RB Leipzig player told a news conference at Austria’s Mallemort training base on Monday.
“I do not understand all the fuss and criticism. He has brought us to France with his goals in the first place.”
Playmaker Zlatko Junuzovic is likely to miss out once more due to an ankle problem, while first-choice striker Marc Janko stayed on the bench against Portugal due to a lack of match fitness – a combination of circumstances that led to Alaba’s ill-judged shift forward.
Aleksandar Dragovic is available once more after serving his suspension after a red card versus Hungary, while Iceland must assess Aron Gunnarsson’s back complaint.
“I knew it could be a tight group, but thought that Portugal would have more points,” said joint head-coach Lagerback.
“The smaller countries are getting better, they have a lot of players abroad, in strong leagues, at good clubs. Therefore, it is becoming ever closer.
“Not many games are decided by more than one goal. There are not many goals.”
Key Opta stats:
– Austria have not progressed from the group stage of a major tournament since reaching the second round at the 1982 World Cup; they’ve since been eliminated at the group stage at the World Cup in 1990 and 1998 and at Euro 2008.
– Iceland have only lost once across their last eight competitive matches (winning three).
– In their last game Austria kept their first clean sheet at a major tournament since 1982 vs Algeria, they had conceded at least one goal in all 13 games since then.
– After two match days no side had faced more shots than Iceland (38) or Austria (37), the most and joint second most respectively.
– Iceland have averaged just 28 per cent possession and made just 298 successful passes so far in the competition, the lowest of any team after the first two match days.
– Five of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s last seven goals for Iceland have come from the penalty spot.