Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Austria, once upon a time a major force, but also part of the general decline of Mittel Europa football after the Second World War. By 1970 Austria on every level was almost an outsider. But things started to change for better after 1975 – Austrian football was rising. Slowly and hardly as a whole – first few talented young players appeared, then the two leading clubs from Vienna – Rapid and especially Austria – made decent teams and got noticed in Europe, and finally the national team became competitive. The culmination of the rise was qualifying for the 1978 World Cup – Austria reached the finals for the first time in 20 years!

The success was due to the lucky combination of talented generation and talented coach – Helmut Senekowitsch was one of the young coaches leading national teams at the World Cup. At 45, he was not yet well known. Once upon a time he was a successful player – he played in Spain, for Real Betis (Sevilla) between 1961 and 1964. He also played for Austria the last time the country appeared at World Cup finals in 1958. After the end of his career, Senekowitsch immediately became a coach, associated mostly with the rising of modest VOEST (Linz). Domestic success, but it was fine – he was appointed to coach the national team in 1976. The appointment proved very good – the young coach was well familiar with the newest developments in the game and quickly utilized the talents of the new Austrian stars. Reaching the finals was big success for Austria and perhaps nobody expected more, but the qualities of the team were taken into account:
1     GK   Friedrich Koncilia                            25 February 1948 (aged 30)    37    SSW Innsbruck
2     DF    Robert Sara                                     9 June 1946 (aged 31)            37     Austria Wien
3     DF    Erich Obermayer                             23 January 1953 (aged 25)      10     Austria Wien
4     DF    Gerhard Breitenberger                     14 October 1954 (aged 23)     11     VÖEST Linz
5     DF    Bruno Pezzey                                   3 February 1955 (aged 23)     25     SSW Innsbruck
6     MF   Roland Hattenberger                        7 December 1948 (aged 29)    23     VfB Stuttgart
7     MF   Josef Hickersberger                          27 April 1948 (aged 30)          33     Fortuna Düsseldorf
8     MF   Herbert Prohaska                             8 August 1955 (aged 22)         27     Austria Wien
9     FW   Hans Krankl                                     14 February 1953 (aged 25)   34     Rapid Wien
10   FW   Wilhelm Kreuz                                  29 May 1949 (aged 29)          35     Feyenoord
11   MF   Kurt Jara                                          14 October 1950 (aged 27)     29     MSV Duisburg
12   MF   Eduard Krieger                                 16 December 1946 (aged 31)  20     Club Brugge
13   MF   Günther Happich                               28 January 1952 (aged 26)      4       Wiener Sportclub
14   DF    Heinrich Strasser                               26 October 1948 (aged 29)     20     Admira/Wacker
15   DF    Heribert Weber                                 28 June 1955 (aged 22)           7       SK Sturm Graz
16   DF    Peter Persidis                                    8 March 1947 (aged 31)          7       Rapid Wien
17   FW   Franz Oberacher                               24 March 1954 (aged 24)        3       SSW Innsbruck
18   FW   Walter Schachner                              1 February 1957 (aged 21)      6      DSV Alpine Donawitz
19   FW   Hans Pirkner                                      25 March 1946 (aged 32)       18    Austria Wien
20   MF   Ernst Baumeister                                22 January 1957 (aged 21)      1      Austria Wien
21   GK   Erwin Fuchsbichler                             27 March 1952 (aged 26)        2     VÖEST Linz
22   GK   Hubert Baumgartner                           25 February 1955 (aged 23)    1      Austria Wien
A well balanced squad, blending experience and row young talent – at first glance, that. Before 1975

only Kurt Jara was the big hope and internationally acknowledged star. The rest of – by 1978 measure - veterans were dependable and sturdy at best. The better Austrian players usually played abroad, mostly in West Germany, but none was a truly big name. Reliable – yes, but nothing else. But after 1975 new boys emerged – Bruno Pezzey, Herbert Prohaska, and Hans Krankl. One great new player in every line. Add the goalkeeper Friedrich Koncilia, who vastly improved after 1972, and there was a ready skeleton of a strong team. It was a question only of additional players, able to support the star. The answer was not so easy, for small Austria naturally had a limited pool of players. Senekowitsch tinkered with whatever options were at hand – the photo represents that well: Rinker, Schwarz, Cerny, Fleischmann, Haider, P. Koncilia, and Daxbacher were out of the final selection. These names hardly mean anything outside Austria, and they were replaced by players equally anonymous abroad. Five foreign-based players were included – about as many as traditional exporter Sweden had. But Senekowitsch made a team already getting recognition: his Austria was compared to West Germany at her peak – Bruno Pezzey was seen as successor of Beckenbauer. Prohaska in midfield was probably close to Overath than Netzed, but wonderful playmaker by any standard. Krankl – a goalscoring machine, just as Gerd Muller was. And Koncilia was as dependable as Maier between the goalposts. Add Robert Sara as an Austrian Berti Vogts; Kurt Jara as a double of Heynckes; Hattenberger and Hickersberger as a version of Wimmer or Flohe, and Austria came really as a copy of the great West German team. Not everybody was young, but the core of the team was – Pezzey at 23, Prohaska – 22, Krankl – 25. Koncilia was already 30 years old, but goalkeepers are better older, not younger, and Koncilia was expected to play a few more years. It was clearly a team with a future, playing total football, and still not reaching the peak of its potential. Of course, it was a lesser version of the great West Germany and nobody saw Austria as possible champion, but strong and exciting team. Since Austria was seen as a bit of immature yet, the real peak was expected in the next few years – not they were to get experience at top level. Too bad they had unlucky draw, placing them in the iron Group 3 – the Austrians were expected to fight well, but lack of experience made them the likelier candidate for the last place. They were rising and Sweden declining, and yet Sweden was seen the better team. Beating Spain and Brazil was pretty much out of the question – Austria perhaps was able to give a lot of trouble to any opponent; may be pinching a point or two in the campaign, but nothing more. Not this year, not at this tournament.