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Austrian efforts tinged with disappointment

Austria's sole success was the 1932 International Cup, forerunner of the UEFA European Championship and one of many innovations for which they were, at least in part, responsible.

Austria's sole success was the 1932 International Cup, forerunner of the UEFA European Championship and one of many innovations for which they were, at least in part, responsible. However, Austrian chances of again competing at the highest level look about as distant as those Wunderteam years. For not even a sepia tinge could make supporters nostalgic about their country's recent past.

First-round exit 
Certainly, they will be no great loss to the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, judging by their efforts last time out. Then, having returned to the world stage after an eight-year absence, Herbert Prohaska's side failed to make it beyond the first round at France 98.

Last-minute goals 
A team reliant on the waning powers of striker Toni Polster, goalkeeper Michael Konsel, central defender Wolfgang Feiersinger and midfield player Peter Stöger drew 1-1 with both Cameroon and Chile on the strength of last-minute goals. Yet they spurned the opportunity of progressing from Group B, losing 2-1 to Italy.

Huge defeat by Spain
Next, Austria were second best to Israel, and only a point better off than Cyprus, in the race for runners-up spot in their EURO 2000™ qualifying section. That it came down to goal difference was neither a surprise nor a consolation: Austrian hopes had effectively ended with a 9-0 defeat by Group Six winners Spain in Valencia in March 1999.

Coaching change
This persuaded Prohaska to call time on his six-year reign. Yet more disappointment followed under new coach Otto Baric, the Croatian trainer formerly with SV Austria Salzburg. Austria might have beaten minnows San Marino, but they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 thrashing in Israel before a 3-1 Spanish victory in Vienna.

Retirement of Polster 
An even greater blow was the decision by UEFA to award EURO 2004™ to Portugal ahead of the Austro-Hungarian bid. But it was not just the 'Danube Games' that fans had to kiss goodbye. Having missed out on EURO 2000™, the veteran Polster retired with a record 95 caps.

Room for optimism 
So, shorn of their main goals' supply, Austria approached the Korea/Japan campaign with some trepidation. The draw pitted them in Group Seven with old enemies Spain and Israel plus Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liechtenstein. Yet there was also room for optimism as, in their second fixture, they held Spain 1-1 in Vienna thanks to a Michael Baur goal.

A point needed 
More positives followed in the 1-1 draw in Sarajevo and 2-1 triumph against Israel. And while they subsequently conceded four in Spain, another home win - 2-0 versus Bosnia-Herzegovina - meant Baric's side needed only a point from their last game in Israel to take second place.

Refused to travel 
The match, which FIFA had postponed from 7 October due to safety fears, eventually went ahead three weeks later. But the refusal of nine Austrian players to travel to Tel-Aviv was to prove costly. While a virtual reserve team got the required result in the Israeli capital - thanks to an injury-time equaliser from captain Andreas Herzog - they could not repeat the feat against Turkey.

Play-off defeat 
With Baric ignoring the nine who refused to travel, Austria lost both legs of the World Cup qualifying play-off: 1-0 in Vienna and 5-0 in Istanbul. "They were in a different class to us," Herzog said. "We were really optimistic because we had shown so much heart in the last two games, but we really deserved to lose. On such form we did not deserve to go to the World Cup." Meanwhile, the Austrian Football Association's (ÖFB) response was to start looking for a new coach - a search that ended in January with the appointment of former national team hero Hans Krankl.

No quick fixes 
In the 1930s Vienna was the capital of European football chic. By December 2001, the city's derby between its two great clubs, FK Austria Wien and SK Rapid Wien, could attract only 10,000 spectators. Krankl, in his new role, will find there are no quick fixes.

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