Austria must pull out of Euro 2008, say 10,000 fans petition
Friday, 16 November 2007
Every so often, when an English sports team is embarrassing itself on the international stage, a red-top thunders, "Bring them home". The Austrians have gone a step further in advance of next summer's European Championships with more than 10,000 supporters signing a petition urging the team be withdrawn before it starts.
As co-hosts Austria qualify automatically, which is fortunate as they would never have reached the finals otherwise. Under Josef Hickersberger, who took over in January 2006, Austria have played 18 matches, mostly at home, winning four, losing eight. The teams they have beaten are Liechtenstein (Austria won in injury time after trailing), Trinidad & Tobago (most of whose 2006 World Cup players refused to play due to a bonus dispute), Switzerland (who have since beaten Austria) and Ivory Coast (who were reduced to 10 men at 1-1). Costa Rica, Malta and Paraguay are among teams to have held the Austrians while Canada, Venezuala, Hungary and Chile have beaten them.
"It is the worst Austrian team ever," lamented Toni Polster, who holds the national team scoring record and played in the 1998 World Cup, the last major tournament Austria qualified for. Michael Kriess, one of the organisers of the petition, "Let's Not Embarrass Ourselves", said: "The way Austria is playing is an insult to our, to every fan's aesthetic understanding of the game."
Austria were once one of the great football nations, but that was 70 years ago. Since reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 1954 they have been in steady decline, aside from a brief revival when Hans Krankl led the line three decades ago.
Hickersberger led them to the 1990 World Cup finals but resigned later that year after a humiliating defeat to the Faroe Islands. The criticism he has endured in his current spell in charge has, he said, been even worse than then. So desperate have things become that when the Under-20s reached the Under-20 World Cup semi-finals this summer one political party proposed that they should play against the senior team with the winners competing in Euro 2008.
Hickersberger has not helped himself, dropping two of his best players, Middlesbrough's Emmanuel Pogatez and Paul Scharner, of Wigan, after both criticised him, but the fact that the promising striker Martin Harnik was with Werder Bremen reserves this season underlines the paucity of native talent.