After days of stressing the irrelevance of qualifying results when attempting to forecast relative strength on the big stage, along comes a match when it’s virtually all we have to go off. Fortunately, there’s enough disparity in the standards set by these two nations over the past four years to appreciate a clear gulf in class.
Austria have only qualified for one major tournament (France 98) in the past 26 years but they’ve got their act together since co-hosting Euro 2008, when they exited at the group stage with barely a whimper. It was an embarrassment that prompted a revamp of their development system, while the appointment of Marcel Koller also brought a new wave of professionalism.
So now they arrive at Euro 2016 on the back of four years of solid improvement with a settled starting 11 that comprises around seven players aged between 27 and 29, the vast majority of whom play regularly in the Bundesliga. And then there’s a sprinkling of world class talent in the shape of David Alaba, Bayern Munich’s versatile youngster. More on him in a moment.
This will be Hungary’s first appearance at a major tournament since 1986 and it remains something of a mystery how they got here. Pitched in the weakest of the nine qualifying groups with Northern Ireland and Romania, they could only finish third with a goal difference of +2, somehow booking their place in France by beating only Finland, the Faroe Islands and Norway.
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It was a chaotic campaign that saw the Magyars employ three different managers - current boss Bernd Storck has been at the helm less than a year - and their 3-1 aggregate win against the Norwegians - arguably the weakest possible opposition in the play-offs - was largely against the run of play. Over the two legs, they had just 35 per cent possession and lost the shot count 25-15.
So don’t be too surprised if, by the end of the group stage, Hungary carry the aura of a team who copped for this experience in the local village tombola, although Austria might have to overcome their best resistance in the opening 45 minutes, maybe longer. As such, the general 8/11 quotes available on Koller’s men are probably right but don’t really get the blood pumping.
So back to Alaba. The Vienna-born sensation is already considered to be one of the world’s greatest players having picked up five Bundesliga titles, one Champions League winners medal and 46 international caps at the age of 23. He usually plays at full back for Bayern but he’s a box-to-box midfielder for Austria who makes the most of his licence to bomb forward whenever possible.
As such, his goalscoring records for club and country are like chalk and cheese. Alaba’s first goal at international level didn’t arrive for three years but he has subsequently found the net in 11 of his last 27 appearances (0.45 goals per 90 minutes), although it should be pointed out that he’s the designated penalty taker and five of those have arrived from the spot.
On that basis, bets on David Alaba to score first at 9-1 and anytime at 7-2 should be easy to get on board with. His touch of class might be the difference in what could be a fiercely competitive encounter for as long as it remains 0-0, and his personal haul includes goals against Sweden (three times), Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, all of whom are better than Hungary.
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