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Austrians look to poleaxe rivals

SoccerNews in European Championships 12 Jun 2008

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Austria may have played above themselves given their FIFA ranking in the Euro 2008 clash with Croatia but they came away with nothing – here on Thursday they will have to get something from the match against Poland if they are to keep their dream alive of making the quarter-finals.

Both the co-hosts and the Poles realise that defeat will probably be a fatal blow to their last eight aspirations after defeats to Croatia and Germany respectively.

Key to Austria's chances will be their playmaker Andreas Ivanschitz, who they could have missed out on had he opted instead for his first love of being a pianist – hopefully for the Austrians he will be on tune.

However, the Greece-based player – who became Austria's youngest ever captain aged 19 under previous coach Hans Krankl – knows how important the match is going to be between the present co-hosts and the putative co-hosts of the 2012 edition.

“Every group game is like a final,” said Ivanschitz, who is presently on loan with Panathinaikos.

“The first final we lost and so on Thursday it will be a real showdown against Poland.”

For Austria's rather lugubrious coach Josef Hickersberger it is a case of attack, attack, attack.

“It will be an all-or-nothing match. The loser will be out,” said Hickersberger.

“Anything less than a win will leave us virtually without any chance (of advancing)”

Hickersberger will be hoping for a performance worthy of ranking alongside the one he was part of in the 1978 World Cup finals when Austria beat then world champions West Germany.

But for one seasoned observer of Austrian football, former Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin, their chances are slim and none and as electrically charged hair addressed Don King once remarked slim is right out of town at the moment when assessing the chances of a challenger to one of his stable.

“It is impossible that Austria will make it to the Euro quarter-finals as they don't have any top stars such as (Hans) Krankl or (Herbert) Prohaska,” was Blokhin's typically frank comment.

A wee bit cruel perhaps but it does say a lot about the level of Austrian football that the 38-year-old Croat-born attacking midfielder Ivica Vastic was their player of the year, and looked a lot fresher than several of his younger counterparts when he came on against the Croats.

The Poles looked pretty smart against the Germans given that they had already lost a key player to injury prior to the match and their lack of depth in talent could be exposed further as they have now got to do without former Celtic marksman Maciej Zurawski.

The 31-year-old – nicknamed 'magic' when he was at Celtic – suffered a thigh injury during the 2-0 opening defeat by Germany on Sunday.

Their veteran Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker may be desperately scratching his head for who to replace him with but one thing he will be dead keen on will be that the Poles don't tail off for the final 20 minutes like he believes they did against the Germans.

“The thing or rather the bottom line is that win and we are still in, defeat and we might as well begin packing our bags. Lets hope its the former,” said the 65-year-old.

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