Austria boss Franco Foda has a selection dilemma in Bucharest as he bids to deliver the country’s first ever win at the European Championship.
No team have played more games at the Euros without earning at least one win than Austria, who have fallen short in all six of their past finals fixtures.
The Group C clash with North Macedonia on Sunday is one in which many expect Austria to prevail, but Foda must decide whether Marko Arnautovic, the team’s star forward, starts the match.
Arnautovic has indicated he feels ready for a pivotal role after recovering from a thigh injury, but there is no certainty the 32-year-old will play from the start.
The former West Ham man, now with Shanghai Port, played half an hour for Austria in a friendly against Slovakia last Sunday but Foda may prefer a match-fit Sasa Kalajdzic to lead his attack.
Foda said in a pre-game news conference: “Ultimately, I have to make the decision about whether Marko is ready for 90 minutes or not.”
A fit and firing Arnautovic’s value to his country is obvious, having been directly involved in seven goals in his eight appearances during the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (six goals, one assist).
Foda also kept North Macedonia guessing about where David Alaba will feature, the erstwhile Bayern Munich star and new Real Madrid recruit being a top performer both in defence and midfield.
“We have decided where he will play,” Foda said, but gave no detail about that decision.
The Austria coach added: “We can make history, and we want to. We absolutely want to win and start the European Championship with a positive result. I have a good feeling.”
North Macedonia are making their big-tournament debut as an independent nation and proud captain Goran Pandev said: “Believe that we are ready and we will do our best to make the public and the Macedonian people happy again.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Austria – Marcel Sabitzer
Sabitzer is coming off a strong season in the German Bundesliga with RB Leipzig and has been linked with clubs including Roma and Arsenal. Austria have plenty of decent pedigree in their squad, but the man who scored eight goals and had three assists on league duty for his club side last term, creating 30 chances in all, is one of a handful with real star quality.
North Macedonia – Goran Pandev
At the age of 37, Pandev leads his country on the big stage, and what a moment it will be for him. A star forward in Serie A for over 15 years, notably with Lazio, Inter, Napoli and Genoa, Pandev may be past his prime but he will hope to lead by example at this tournament.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– These teams have only played each other twice before – both times in qualifying for this tournament – with Austria winning those matches 4-1 and 2-1.
– Including the play-off rounds, North Macedonia won each of their final three games in Euro 2020 qualifying – as many as they had won in their previous nine games of the qualifying campaign beforehand (D2 L4).
– Austria have yet to reach the knockout stages or even win a single game at the European Championships (D2 L4).
– Austria have won only one of their last 15 games at major tournaments (D5 L9 – World Cups and Euros), a 2-1 victory against United States in the group phase of the 1990 World Cup. They last reached the knockout stages of a major tournament at the 1954 World Cup, finishing third.
– Austria have scored only two goals in their six games at the European Championship finals; one of them was a penalty (Ivica Vastic vs Poland, Euro 2008). They have never been ahead at any point in those six games.
– North Macedonia’s 1.25 goals scored per game during Euro 2020 qualifiers (15 in 12 games) was the joint-lowest average of any team to have qualified for the finals, alongside Wales.
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