By Raimund Fabi
Joint coaches Günter Kronsteiner and Lars Söndergaard know that a win against FC Utrecht on Thursday would put FK Austria Wien into the last 32 of the UEFA Cup for the first time in 20 years. They may also be aware that dropping out of the competition at this stage would be a major disappointment for their owner.
Billionaire Frank Stronach has invested heavily in Austria, but with their UEFA Cup progress hinging entirely on their final game, he and his side's supporters are in for a nervous night in the Netherlands as they scrap for one of the final two places in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup available for Group C teams.
"We had a couple of days rest after our last match in the domestic league," said Söndergaard. "This gave us time to recover from the stressful times before. My team is mentally strong again. They know about the importance of the match and they have the power to win."
Austria have not been lucky in Group C so far. A 1-0 win against Spanish Cup holders Real Zaragoza was followed by a 1-0 defeat by FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the freezing cold in Ukraine before an added-time equaliser denied them a 1-0 victory at home against Club Brugge KV.
In such circumstances, a nervous coach could be tempted to try and fiddle with their tactical formula, but Söndergaard insists that his side are going to stick to their original plan and play to win in Utrecht. "We play a 4-4-2 formation," he said. "This is our system and I am sure this will bring us success.
We do not and cannot worry about Utrecht - we have to play our game. That's the only chance we have, and we will get through, especially because our personnel situation has improved."
The biggest improvement in that regard is the return of striker Sigurd Rushfeldt from injury. "Sigurd is back again," said Söndergaard triumphantly. "He has completely recovered and is in good physical and mental condition again. He is good for a goal against any team."
The veteran Norwegian has scored 14 goals in Austria this season and may need to be in good form to make up for some other absences. First-choice goalkeeper Joey Didulica will miss the match after being injured in the Brugge game, joining midfield player Michael Wagner and defender Fernando Troyansky on the sick list.
In such circumstances, the return of defender Kristof Ratajczyk might be a huge boost for Kronsteiner and Söndergaard. The Pole, who has been out with a knee injury since May, is expected to be fit to return to the squad at the Nieuw Galgenwaard stadium, but most likely he will start the match on the bench.
With Utrecht already prepared to bow out of Europe following defeats in their first three Group C games, Austria seem to have circumstances in their favour, but as the many pundits who tipped them to run away with the Austrian title this season will attest, the Viennese side are unpredictable.
They go into the winter break in Austria a point adrift of SK Rapid Wien at the top of the table. They would have been league leaders were it not for a 2-1 defeat against SV Mattersburg in their final game of the autumn on 7 December. That result was regarded as a minor stumble. They can ill afford a major one in Utrecht.
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