Austria moved to the top of EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 3 after claiming a comfortable 2-0 win against Belarus in Minsk.
Having lost 3-0 against the Netherlands in their opening qualifying match, Belarus put up stern resistance in front of 20,000 supporters at the Dinamo stadium but succumbed to second-half strikes from Markus Shopp and Muhammet Akagündüz.
The home side had made a bright start to the game, passing the ball with style and confidence and they came close to taking an unlikely lead in the fifth minute of the game after a quick break unhinged the Austrian defence.
Captain Sergey Gurenko sped down the right and played an excellent cross which completely eluded the visitors' defence only for the unmarked Alexander Hatskevich to head the ball wide from barely six metres with the goal gaping.
The home side had reason to go into the second half with confidence, but Austria raised their game and as they began to exert more pressure, Belarus found the game drifting out of their control. Schopp opened the scoring in the 57th minute as he was given too much space from a Roman Wallner corner and was able to beat Belarus goalkeeper Gennady Tumiliovich with a firm header from five metres.
As Austria continued to press, Belarus found it difficult to create the kind of fluent movements which characterised their first-half performance and any chance of an equaliser all but evaporated after Alexander Lukhvich was shown the red card with six minutes remaining.
Akagunduz makes it two
The visitors pressed their advantage and Akagündüz, a 75th-minute substitute for Wallner, underlined his side's dominance with a second goal with a minute of normal time remaining. Indeed, Belarus can consider themselves lucky not to have gone down to a second successive 3-0 defeat after an excellent double save from Tumilovich denied Andreas Herzog deep into added time.
Hans Krankl, the coach of Austria coach, enthused about his side's showing. "I am delighted with the result and they way we played," he said. "Not too many people believed in us in Austria. But because of that, our victory is even more valuable." The triumph is sure to boost morale ahead of the visit of the Netherlands on Wednesday.
Krankl's opposite number, Eduard Malafeev, was not so pleased, saying: "I could not even imagine that our defence could play so weakly tonight. The reason for our defeat is largely down to their performance. As well as making mistakes at the back, they were too slow to support the attack." Belarus face perhaps an even trickier task in midweek when they travel to the Czech Republic.