The first foray into the elite division of the Nations League by the Austrian national football team ended with immediate relegation. Due to the 1: 3 on Sunday in Vienna’s Happel Stadium against Croatia, the ÖFB selection has to go to the B-League as the group bottom. Third place would have been possible thanks to Danish support against France, but the necessary three points were not scored.
This was due to a lack of chance evaluation, but also to unsuccessful changes by team boss Ralf Rangnick, as the German admitted. “Looking back, we maybe went ‘all in’ with the changes a bit too early, I wouldn’t do it like that anymore – afterwards you’re always smarter -” explained the 64-year-old, looking at his three-way swap after an hour including the switch from chain of three to chain of four.
You were in good shape with the back three, said Rangnick. He decided to make the changes because Christopher Trimmel’s strength was running out and Stefan Posch was yellow. Up to this point, the Austrians had not given the Croatians a compelling chance, with the exception of the goal they conceded, but created two themselves – all of which were smothered.
Christoph Baumgartner’s shot was missing centimeters, the new ÖFB record international Marko Arnautovic failed to Dominik Livakovic. The Croatian goalie was later on hand when Michael Gregoritsch headed the ball. “We had two huge chances and one good chance. You can do that, maybe you have to, if you want to win a game like that,” Rangnick summed it up. “It’s a shame because we played really well for 60 minutes and in terms of scoring chances we could have won the game.”
In the end it was the third defeat in a row, and the ÖFB squad has been unsuccessful for five games – the last time there was such a winning streak was in 2011. Rangnick only won one of his first six matches as team boss, just as little as Karel Brückner did in 2008 until 2009. However, in Rangnick’s six games there were also matches against the current world champion (France), runner-up world champion (Croatia) and European semi-finalists (Denmark).
Rangnick’s record after the Nations League group stage was mixed. “Four out of six games were good, so we controlled the games over long stretches. We deservedly lost in Denmark and France, but unfortunately we only got four points in the other four games.”
It continues from November 14th with a training camp in Marbella including a friendly on November 16th against Andorra. The course concludes on November 20 with a test in the Happel Stadium against European champions Italy. Rangnick would have liked to have avoided the duel with Andorra, but the ÖFB is contractually obliged to play two matches this week. The 64-year-old would like to switch the entire team against the underdog at the break, but the regulations prohibit him from doing so – according to Rangnick, only five changes are allowed against Andorra.
EM qualification as a big goal
The European Championship qualification draw, in which Austria will be drawn from pot two, will take place in Frankfurt on October 9th. The qualification starts next March, the ticket for the finals in 2024 in Germany is the declared goal. “We have to develop and improve in terms of qualifying,” Rangnick demanded.
In a win against Croatia, the ÖFB selection would have been drawn from pot one in the draw, but even as a pot two team there should be a realistic chance of participating in the EURO. “Defeats never feel good, but we still have enough self-confidence to qualify for the European Championship, regardless of whether we’re in pot one or two,” said Rangnick. You want to be there in Germany “and then play a really good role there”.
In order to achieve this, however, games that are on a knife’s edge like the one against Croatia should be won. “We have to pull games like this onto our side. That will be very important, especially in the direction of the EURO,” emphasized Rangnick.
According to the national coach, the callousness required for this cannot be specially trained. “If I now start thinking about degrees with a Marko Arnautovic, who is 33 years old and has made 104 international matches – I don’t think that makes much sense. He usually makes balls like that.”
Rangnick definitely has to think about the outside players. “We have a lot of good players in the center of defense and midfield, but we still have problems in the flanks. We have to make sure that we find the best solution in each case,” said the former Manchester United coach.
A positive aspect of the Croatia game for Rangnick was the performance of goalscorer Baumgartner, whom he had only started once in the previous five games and missed twice. “I really liked him for 60 minutes today, he left a real fingerprint on the game. If he combines his technical skills with basic aggressiveness and an aggressive game against the ball, then he’s definitely one of the starting line-ups,” said the team boss.
Rangnick also liked the fact that the arena in the Prater was almost sold out with 45,700 spectators. However, the majority of the spectators were in the Croatian camp, which Rangnick did not see as a problem. “I was glad that the stadium was really full,” emphasized Franco Foda’s successor.