LASK Linz and SK Austria Kärnten will kick off the new Austrian season today with UEFA EURO 2008™ having prompted some changes to the domestic calendar.
With Austria preparing to co-host the finals with Switzerland next summer, this is the earliest ever start to a Bundesliga season and, in order to further reduce pressure on players, the Austrian Cup will not be contested. All of that should make matters easier for FC Salzburg as they look to defend their title and make progress in the UEFA Champions League. They begin in the second qualifying round against either The New Saints FC of Wales or Latvia's FK Ventspils.
The dismissal of coach Giovanni Trapattoni's right-hand man Lothar Matthäus was a major shock at Salzburg during the summer but with the signings of Christoph Leitgeb, Ibrahim Sekagya and Saša Ilić, they remain favourites to retain the championship. The Italian coach said it would "take a lot of desire and strength to win the title two years in a row" but it is a challenge well within his side's abilities.
Last season's runners-up SV Ried and third-placed SV Mattersburg, who will compete in UEFA Cup qualifying along with cup winners FK Austria Wien, are unlikely to be threatening Salzburg this season. The departures of Emin Sulimani, Markus Berger and Thomas Eder have weakened Ried, while the absence of defenders Jürgen Patocka and Krzysztof Ratajczyk is sure to be felt at Mattersburg. Patocka, however, may yet make an impact at his new club after joining SK Rapid Wien.
Austria's most successful club of all time are eager to return to their glory days having not won the title since 2004/05. Patocka and fellow internationals Markus Heikkinen and Mario Tokic have all joined with the hope of shoring up the Vienna side's defence and the club's general manager Markus Kraetschmer wants the team to "fight with the leaders again".
Avoiding relegation will be the aim of the game for SCR Altach's new coach Manfred Bender while SK Sturm Graz will be aiming for a season of stability as they look to keep their books balanced. Due to restrictions on their activities following a 16-point deduction last season for financial problems, coach Franco Foda has not been able to sign any new players.
Having avoided the drop in the last two seasons largely because of other clubs' financial problems, FC Wacker Tirol will look to stay up under their own steam, while promoted LASK may yet aspire to a top-four finish and a European place. Meanwhile, their first-day opponents Kärnten will look to enjoy their first season under their new identity since abandoning their old name, FCS Pasching, and their home town to move to Klagenfurt.
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