Having qualified for the UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals in impressive fashion, Austria are banking on the experience of coach Paul Gludovatz to help make a favourable impression in Poland.
The 60-year-old has worked for the Austrian Football Association for the past 24 years and, having enjoyed considerable success at youth level, is relishing another opportunity to test his wits on the continental stage. "Of course we are looking forward to the international challenge - none of the eight sides from last year's European U19 Championship are taking part in Poland," he told uefa.com. "This is why I think it will be quite a balanced tournament with Spain having a good side, which is traditional as far as their youth teams are concerned."
Gludovatz led his charges to the European U17 Championship finals in France two years ago but acknowledges that their credentials face a stern examination over the next fortnight. "I think Group A, with us, Poland, Belgium and Czech Republic, is slightly more difficult than the other section with Portugal, Scotland, Spain and Turkey," he added. "In qualifying we eliminated Hungary, Slovenia and Russia and performed well, and now I hope we can get through to the semi-finals, if everything goes well. Another goal is qualification for next year's FIFA U-20 World Cup." To achieve that, Austria will need to finish in the top three in their pool.
On the defensive
Gludovatz is a pragmatist who recognises the essential need for a strong defence but still gives his players the freedom to express their individual talents. "We play with a flat back four which is the basis of a strong and compact defence," he explained. "It is very important for me that we are safe in defence. Apart from that we are very flexible - we can play a classic 4-4-2 as well as a 4-3-3 formation among others.
I expect my players to be flexible in midfield and they will be very aggressive and effective in attack. As a team we want to be a compact unit and play the game with spirit."
Unity is a crucial quality for Gludovatz, a keen advocate of collective strength over the individual, who went on: "Trust and team spirit are very important to me and play a big role. The players are in an environment where they can enjoy themselves and they enjoy that feeling of safety. I can tell from my long experience as a coach that such an atmosphere gives them a boost. Each of my players will know what is expected of them. Continuity is also very important for me in my work."
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the coach is reluctant to single out any of his players for praise. "It is always difficult to give special mention to one player, especially because I think the whole team as a collective is important," he said. "We certainly have a balanced side with good players and we have good attacking players at our disposal. In attack you can even say that I have the problem of luxury." It is a welcome dilemma which Austria, and their coach, are sure to relish.
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