Austria – World Cup 2014 Qualification Update

We’re now more or less at the halfway point of qualification for Brazil 2014 and this seems like a logical place to update you on progression with the national side.

As with any Club and Country game, the national team’s performances are absolutely paramount and to be prioritised over the club side’s success, with Rapid supposedly being a regular feeder club for the national team – nurturing the newgens that will one day bring us a World Cup victory.

We’re a long way off that, though, and for the moment the club and national sides have little to do with each other. Instead, this qualifying campaign is all about judging the standard of the players that are at my disposal in the starting database, finding a consistent and effective tactic whilst ensuring progression in terms of results and, ultimately, qualifying for the big tournaments.

That process is now well underway and this update will look at our results thus far, give some detail on my tactical meanderings and look at the players that I have now settled on as the spine around which the future will develop.

As usual, let’s first look at our results thus far. Results which I am more than pleased with, competitively at least.

Austria Fixtures up to August 2013

Our friendly performances have been very poor but that’s to be expected given the number of alternative players and systems that I’ve been using in these games.

Conversely, the competitive fixtures have gone fantastically with 5 wins and just the loss in Germany leaving the group thus:

World Cup 2014 – European Qualification Group 3

I really can’t have expected it to better than that but, just as with the club side, I feel like our league position is somewhat flattering.

Taking the home game against Ireland as an example, we dominated possession but struggled to create many chances with just 3 non-“long shots” whilst Ireland hit us on the break continually and created 1 clear chance and 3 half-chances with only the form of Heinz Lindner maintaining our clean sheet.

The victories over the minnows were also stuttering affairs and the only game in which I’ve been really pleased with our performance was the 3-1 victory over Sweden, an absolutely crucial result against the team I see as our main rivals for second spot.

We have a guaranteed 3 points coming our way with the home game against the Faroes whilst Sweden’s final game will be a routine win over Kazakhstan. The crucial fixtures are going to come in the September double header, just around the corner. We host arch-rivals Germany before travelling to Sweden for a massive 6-pointer.

A point against Germany would be huge boost for us but I think I’ll be better off hoping that Ireland, who host the Swedes on the same evening, do me a favour and hold the Scandinavians to a draw. An Irish win would see them as dangerous outsiders for the playoff spot as they’ve already faced Germany twice and have both the Faroes and Kazakhs yet to play. 3 wins for the Irish would make our final fixture, in Dublin, mightily uncomfortable.

For the moment, I’m aiming for a minimum of 2 points in the September double header. Combined with the expected 3 points from the Faroes game, that would put us on 20 and, hopefully, out of sight.

Plenty of permutations yet.

Tactics

The Whirl

Speaking of permutations, I’ve been tweaking with the tactics more often that I really ought to. The 3-1 victory over Sweden was secured using the Whirl as shown in my first update. Since then, I’ve switched into the 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 variants I’ve been using with the club side.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps I should have maintained the Whirl with the national side and I’m going to resurrect it for a friendly I have coming up against a supremely talented French side. I don’t expect to win this game but I’ll be using a strong squad and it will give me some idea of its viability before the big double-header.

The next alternative I’ll be looking at is to switch it up to three at the back. I’m planning a separate “tactical evolution” post to detail my thoughts on this potential switch but I’ve been having some great success in pre-season with Rapid using a 3-4-1-2 and variants thereof.

Quite by accident, this system would also suit the national team nicely with Christian Fuchs perfect for the shuttling role on the left and the attacking triangle suitably occupying the talent that I have up front.

Something to consider but my instinct is telling me not to try anything too flamboyant just yet. There simply aren’t enough games in international football to risk a negative result with experimentation. I’ll use my friendlies wisely and take it from there.

Players

The national pool is a little odd just now. We are some way short of having an embarrassment of riches but what we do have is a reasonable number of fairly good players that are all around the same level and it’s proving troublesome choosing between them.

David Alaba is the clear standout talent; whilst Christian Fuchs is excellent and Aleksandar Dragovic will be very, very good.

After that, we have a group of good players with limitations such as Martin Harnik who can’t pass, Marko Arnautovic who can’t finish and Sebastian Prodl who can’t run. Of course, I’m exaggerating slightly but you get the point. Arnautovic is particularly frustrating and I can’t quite decide what his best role is.

During the real-life Austria v Germany game I tweeted something along the lines of “from Austria’s Zlatan to Austria’s Ronnie Rozenthal in a matter of minutes”. This was in relation to a barnstorming run in which he beat 3 German defenders and then minutes later missed a sitter from 3 yards that would have put Austria level.

Frustratingly for FMers, SI seem to have captured this inconsistency well. He’s got good pace and is a wonderful dribbler but his movement is poor and he couldn’t finish a pot noodle. Bearing in mind that he’s two-footed and therefore will out-perform his attributes, he looks like he’d make a decent winger but he is so massively inconsistent that I’m loathe to rely on him as a main creative outlet whilst he’s virtually useless at defending against his fullback.

He’s not clinical enough, or at all, to play a lone striker role which is why a move to a 3-4-1-2 may well get the best out of him, playing a deeper role alongside my primary finisher – be that Harnik, Alar, Janko or Weimann.

Throughout the squad, I’ve dropped anyone over the age of 30 with veteran mentalist Emanuel Pogatetz the oldest player in my squad and the likes of Mandl, Dag, Gspurning, Linz and Ibertsberger confined to the international scrapheap – soon to be joined by Janko, Pogatetz and Ivanschitz. We’re not going to win a title in the next 4 years , likely even longer, so it’s time for the younger generation to be given a chance, take note SFA.

Talking of which, it looks like we’ve got a real gem in young striker Jens Hoeneß.

I plan to give him plenty of game time at Rapid this season and this can only benefit the national team. I just wish that the AI managers would do the same with the likes of Valentino Lazaro, Christoph Martschinko and Francesco Lovric. Either that or let me buy them so that I can develop them myself. As it is, those 3 are just a few of the rotting talents that I’m currently missing out on.

On the subject of missing out on players, I’m becoming incredibly frustrated by the AI “stealing” some of my players for other national sides. Mohamed Ildiz, David Domej and Adrian Grbic have all mysteriously dropped out of my unders squads only to reappear in the Turkish or Croatian equivalents. None have been given full competitive caps as yet and so I still have some hope of bringing them back into the Austrian system but it feels like I’m fighting a losing battle just now.

David Domej – in demand

David Domej could be particularly crucial. He’s a very promising centre half who came through the Rapid academy and is now in my first team squad, although not a first choice starter.

Centre half is a worrying area for the national side, though, and any prospects in this area need to be nurtured carefully. Dragovic will be a starter for years to come whilst Prodl is pretty handy if a little slow off the mark and unsure on the ball – think Austrian Mertesacker.

Kevin Wimmer (Koln) and Martin Hinteregger (Salzburg) are my other two main hopes with Christopher Dibon (Salzburg) next in line but none of them are regular starters for their clubs and their progression is therefore suffering. I’m doing all I can to sign Wimmer but have so far been frustrated by high asking prices and wage demands.

As always with my club and country saves, finding a defence is going to be the key and I’m currently considering a series of 18 year old Brazilian and Argentinian centre halves with the long term intention of nationalising them. An imperfect tactic that I’ve had little previous success with.

Conclusion

Despite the long term concerns, though, I have to conclude that it’s been a successful start with the national side. We’re currently ranked 46th in the world but have been as high as 30 thanks to our competitive wins and the average age of my first choice squad is currently around 24 which bodes well in the medium term.

Short term targets are to settle on a chosen formation, something at which I notoriously procrastinate, and secure a playoff place for Brazil 2014. With those foundations laid we should be able to push on and the increased reputation should bring better newgens, slowly starting the process which will see us regularly qualify for tournaments and then… well that’s a long way off yet.

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