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Both Austria and Poland will walk a tightrope at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion knowing that one false move could lead to their early departure from UEFA EURO 2008™.
'Optimistic by nature'
For Austria the situation is arguably more acute. Prior to this tournament, Belgium in 2000 had been the only host nation since 1980 not to progress from the group stage and they will be desperate not to follow neighbours Switzerland in suffering early elimination. Coach Josef Hickersberger said: "This will be a decisive match for both teams, we both have to win in order to have a chance of moving up to the quarter-finals. Of course [failure to qualify] would be a great disappointment for myself, the team, each individual player and all Austria. I'm not going to speculate about disasters because I am optimistic by nature and I believe we will still have a chance [of making progress] after the game with Poland."
Both teams, who are making their first appearance at a UEFA European Championship final tournament, began their Group B campaigns with defeat. Austria were undone by a fourth-minute penalty against Croatia but there was enough improvement in their second-half display to inspire hope of a different result this time. The coach is mulling over changes and both Ivica Vastic and Ümit Korkmaz, who revitalised the team as substitutes, are in contention for starting roles. Poland are in the same position and Hickersberger has impressed on the Austrian supporters that they will be difficult opponents. "They qualified for the World Cup in 2006 and for this tournament they qualified ahead of Portugal so they're very strong. But we're convinced we have a team that is able not only to play well but also to win."
According to Hickersberger, expectations may weigh more heavily on Poland because of their greater experience of major finals. "In Austria we are realistic," the Austria coach added. "We know the international position we currently hold. Nevertheless we set ourselves ambitious goals and as long as we can still reach those goals we will believe in our chances. For Poland it is a different situation – they have to meet higher expectations." Austria's opponents, however, went down 2-0 to Germany on Sunday and lost captain Maciej Żurawski to a muscle injury while Mariusz Lewandowski is struggling with an ankle problem, so Roger Guerreiro and Marek Saganowski stand by to deputise.
Hickersberger's opposite number, Leo Beenhakker, has also warned his side to beware the "home effect" that may rouse Austria to greater heights. "Many times in tournaments we've seen the host team playing at a much higher level based on the atmosphere around the team and among the people," he said. "We see it in every discipline in sport and in the Olympics when the home nation picks up the most prizes. This is a match to stay in the tournament so from that regard we're almost doing the same job as coaches. The two teams are very similar in that the strongest element is the team itself. Neither of us have a [Thierry] Henry or a [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, players who can make the difference in a game, but that doesn't mean we don't have good players."
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