Austria v Poland: Co-hosts prepare for a knock-out tie

Today, 19.45, Vienna, BBC1
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The Independent Online

Euro 2008 begins tonight for Howard Webb, the Rotherham policeman, who finally takes charge of his first game at this level in the Ernst Happel Stadium. For one of the teams he officiates, however, the tournament could be over when he blows the final whistle.

Should Germany and Croatia draw the afternoon game, defeat will equal elimination tonight, in Austria's case that would mean being ejected from their own party after just six days.

"The knock-out phase has already begun for us," admitted Andreas Herzog, Austria's team manager. "We have to win in order to remain in the running. Having to beat Germany (in Austria's final group game) would be the opposite of ideal." Herzog added: "We have to find the right blend, have to be able to stay ice cold when we strike, utilise every weakness of our opponent."

An Austrian defeat would be a blow for Euro 2008 as the nation appears to have overcome early reservations to embrace both the event and their team. Austrian shirts are much in evidence while the enthusiasm for the tournament is evidenced by the success of the fan zones, and the omnipresent logo.

Given the popular mood the offer, from a local brewery, to grant any Austrian goalscorer a lifelong supply of free beer, looks a shrewd marketing ploy. It begs the question how much beer a professional athlete drinks in a year; or rather, how much will he admit to.

Co-incidentally or not, Roland Linz, who is one of the team's more controversial players, made an unexpected return from an ankle injury and may keep his place tonight. Linz has been accused, in the local media, of being distracted by a complicated personal life, and of being the player who overslept last week prompting coach Josef Hickersberger to complain that the team lacked focus. The 26-year-old went off injured in the opening defeat against Croatia but surprised medical staff by training yesterday.

"He wanted to fight for his place in the starting team. He has seen there is intense competition for that spot and he doesn't want to lose it," said Hickersberger. Roman Kienast, who replaced Linz, stands by to deputise. Kienast's uncle, Reinhard Kienast, scored twice against Germany in Austria's 4-1 1986 win. With Austria needing to win in Vienna for the first time in eight matches stretching back to 2006 Hickersberger must decide whether to revert to four at the back enabling him to include more offensively minded midfielders such as Unit Korkmaz.

Poland are likely to bring in naturalised Brazilian Roger Guerreiro to replace captain Maciej Zurawski, the former Celtic cult hero. Veteran coach Leo Beenhakker is hoping for his first victory in a major tournament at the ninth attempt having failed to oversee victories at either the 1990 or 2006 World Cups with his native Netherlands and Trinidad & Tobago respectively. Webb, meanwhile, hopes for better luck, and smarter arithmetic, than the last Englishman to referee at a major tournament, Graham Poll.

Probable teams:

Austria (4-1-3-2): Macho (AEK Athens); Standfest (Austria Vienna), Proedl (Sturm Graz), Stranzl (Spartak Moscow), Pogatetz (Middlesbrough); Aufhauser (Salzburg); Korkmaz (Rapid Vienna), Ivanschitz (Panathinaikos), Gercaliu (Austria Vienna); Harnik (Werder Bremen), Linz (Sporting Braga).

Dudka, Lewandowski,; Lobod

Poland (4-2-3-1): Boruc (Celtic); Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Zewlakow (Olympiakos), Bak (Austria Vienna), Wawrzyniak (Legia Warsaw); Dudka (both Wisla Krakow), Lewandowski (Shakhtar Donetsk); Lobodzinski (Wisla Krakow), Guerreiro (Legia Warsaw), Krzynowek (Wolfsburg); Smolarek (Santander).

Referee: H Webb (England)

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