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EURO 2024 Preview: In-form Austria a threat in competitive Group D

Austria's midfielder Konrad Laimer (right) reacts during a recent friendly against Switzerland
Austria's midfielder Konrad Laimer (right) reacts during a recent friendly against SwitzerlandAFP
Another dark horse? It is true that in a group with France, the Netherlands and the unpredictable Poland, Austria will have their work cut out to seal qualification from at least third place. On the other hand, they have made really impressive progress over the last two years and finishing in one of the top two positions in Group D wouldn't be a huge shock.

Ralf Rangnick didn't have it easy at the start. On November 2022, only around 18,000 spectators turned up for Austria's prestigious friendly match against Italy.

However, for the qualifying battle with the Belgians 11 months later, all 47,000 tickets at Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium sold out in less than three hours.

The enthusiasm for the national team did not fade even while waiting for the Euros to start. A solid three thousand spectators watched the first training session at the pre-tournament meeting in Windischgarsten.

They had the opportunity to see all the stars together, except for Marcel Sabitzer, who was still preparing for the Champions League final. In the end, Sabitzer didn't manage to play in any of the friendly matches but he remains a key part of the starting team.

In short, Austria lives for the national team. What a change from the defensive, boring Franco Foda era. It did produce results, and Foda's scoring average was better than Rangnick's until recently. But it wasn't fun. No one enjoyed it. 

Rangnick's team is now brimming with confidence. They have dominated six of their last seven matches, only drawing against the Swiss. The March friendly games against Slovakia (Christoph Baumgartner's shot after six seconds) and Turkey (a six-goal demolition) in particular stand out.

Now the Austrians are ready to show the magic of gegenpressing to the whole continent.

Road to the finals

Austria finished Group F in second place a point behind Belgium. They dropped points in just two matches: a draw away to the Belgian Red Devils and a home defeat against the same nation. The Austrian supporters were thus most disturbed by the close results against Estonia and in Azerbaijan. 

The midfield, in which Marcel Sabitzer gradually became more and more important, was key to their campaign. He was involved in six goals during the qualification campaign (scoring four and assisting twice), while he also created the most big chances (four) and dominated the expected assists (1.6) among his teammates. 

Qualifying also brought good news for Linz. The national team returned to the capital of Upper Austria after 11 years. And after the agreement with LASK, the ÖFB intends to push their matches into the newly-built Raiffeisen Arena in the years to come.

Austria's recent form
Austria's recent formFlashscore

Ralf Rangnick in charge

It's not easy being a popular German in Austria. But Ralf Rangnick already had one advantage before his arrival in Vienna. He is a big part of Red Bull's success in football over the past decade.

The Austrian squad is full of players who have been through Salzburg, Leipzig or both. Most are very familiar with the system of both Red Bull clubs. Rangnick, who has spent eight years in the hierarchy of one club or another, tries not to exaggerate this advantage too much. But it's definitely worth mentioning.

Even without the likes of Xaver Schlager, Rangnick will build on the foundation of his gegenpressing. Quick transitions forward, trying to control the game not only with the ball, but also without it if possible so that the forwards can get back on the front foot as soon as possible. 

Those were qualities that Manchester United fans wanted to see during his tenure, with many supporters still arguing to this day whether Rangnick failed or simply couldn't translate his ideas into practice due to the atmosphere at the club.

It is possible that Rangnick recently snubbed an offer from Bayern for the same reason, choosing to stay in Austria instead. In the coming weeks he intends to prove that he made the right decision.

Christoph Baumgartner the leader

Baumgartner has never actually played at club level in Austria, as he headed to Germany at the age of 16. Still, he's well-steeped in the Rangnick philosophy. He spent five years at Hoffenheim, who the current Das Team manager pulled from the 3. Liga to the Bundesliga. 

The midfielder has just completed his debut season at Leipzig, but like compatriot Nicolas Seiwald, he might have expected to fare a little better. Baumgartner did play most of RB's games, but predominantly as a substitute.

However, a gradual adaptation is quite common in Leipzig. Similarly, Dani Olmo moved alongside Christopher Nkunku until he eventually took over the Frenchman's role completely. And now Baumgartner is waiting to play alongside/replace Olmo.

Baumgartner's recent stats
Baumgartner's recent statsFlashscore

Even as a substitute, Baumgartner can make a telling impact. Last season, he repeatedly disrupted the already exhausted defensive line of the opponent. One particular game against Freiburg is worth mentioning, with the Austrian winning a penalty and scoring a goal in just 20 minutes of play. 

As an intelligent and versatile player, he moves skilfully between the lines, where he is often waiting for a through ball from deep. He can then send another pass or take it all on himself and have an effort on goal. His shooting from outside the box is a real strength.

While at club level he has struggled for consistency, in the national team Baumgartner is almost unstoppable. In 38 starts so far, he has already scored 15 times. It was his goal against Ukraine that decided the team's progress to the knockout stages of the last Euros. 

Furthermore, his goals contributed to the crucial 2-0 qualifying win over the Swedes, he made his mark in the friendly against Germany in the autumn and we touched upon his thunderbolt goal against Slovakia at the beginning of this piece. 

Group D fixtures

17.06.2024 - Austria vs France - Dusseldorf 

21.06.2024 - Poland vs Austria - Berlin 

25.06.2024 - Netherlands vs Austria - Berlin

Group D standings
Group D standingsFlashscore

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