[dropcap]C[/dropcap]entral European nation Austria’s limited influence over the world game must surely be compounded by sharing a border with two of world football’s most successful teams in form of Italy and Germany.
The country borders with seven countries in total, with even modest neighbours Switzerland and Czech Republic having moments of achievement, while Austrian football has been left firmly in the shadows.
However, with a golden generation of talented young players coming through the ranks, things may well be about to change.
After five games of their European Championships qualifying campaign, Marcel Koller’s men sit atop of Group G unbeaten, leading the way in a competitive pool that consists Russia, Sweden and Montenegro.
If and when Austria do make it to the expanded Euro 2016 competition, it will only be their second outing at the European Championships; they participated at Euro 2008 by default due to hosting the tournament and were eliminated without winning a game.
Despite this, there are certainly reasons for optimism in the Austrian camp, with Friday night’s 5-0 win away to Liechtenstein continuing their excellent start to qualifying.
Of the current squad, 11 ply their club trade in Germany, with the collective benefitting as a result.
Austria’s undoubted star is Bayern Munich versatility man David Alaba and at this stage the nation’s only world-class player.
The 22-year-old came through the Bavarian giants’ youth ranks and has been a key player at the Allianz Arena for a number of years now.
Deployed most often at left-back or left wing-back for his club, Alaba operates in the centre of midfield for his country to maximise his stellar range of passing and controls games single-handedly for his team.
However, it is not a one-man team, as a number of other young stars are starting to show that they are more than good enough for international football, with the team’s defence one of their strengths.
Koller has three excellent central defenders to choose from that are all making the news for their performances at club level.
Aleksandar Dragović’s no-nonsense approach at Basel earned him a move to Dynamo Kyiv in 2013 but it looks like only a matter of time before he is snatched up by a leading European club.
Martin Hinteregger has received rave reviews for his dominance at Red Bull Salzburg and looks set for a summer move, while FC Köln centre-back Kevin Wimmer has been in the British press recently due to notions that Tottenham have a deal in place to bring him to England in the summer.
With national captain and Schalke ever-present Christian Fuchs operating from left-back and Stuttgart’s Florian Klein on the opposite flank, it is clear to see why Austria have only conceded two goals in five qualifying fixtures so far.
A number of experienced internationals partner Alaba in midfield, with fellow Bundesliga technicians Martin Harnik, Zlatko Junuzović and Julian Baumgartlinger providing well over 100 caps between them.
To take them to the next level, Austria could certainly use a reliable and consistent goalscorer, but there are a number of attackers in the national set-up that possess quality and distinction.
Marko Arnautović continues his role as a troubled genius; a player capable of turning a match with a piece of individual skill and spectacular goal, but who is equally as likely to get sent off after a moment of madness.
Aston Villa’s Andreas Weimann is highly rated in Birmingham and has shown that he has Premier League quality and has goals in him.
There is also excitement surrounding the emergence of Marcel Sabitzer, who at 21 looks to have all the attributes to play at the highest level and a consistent goalscoring record for all the clubs he has played for; he is currently on loan at Red Bull Salzburg from German side RB Leipzig.
Austria have already beaten Russia and Montenegro at home, but still need to play the away legs against the eastern European sides, plus face a trip to Stockholm.
However, with a healthy advantage at the top of the six-team table already, Austria have every chance of featuring at Euro 2016 and look to be closing the gap on their illustrious European neighbours.
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