'We want to expose England's weakness'

Austria's temporary coach, Andreas Herzog, is set to keep faith with his promising young squad. Paul Newman reports

Instead the Austrian football federation sacked him. Hans Krankl was dismissed last month after three years as national coach, having fallen out with the president of the governing body. The team that will face England at Old Trafford today have been prepared by Andreas Herzog, the 35-year-old former Bayern midfielder who is Austria's most capped player. He is assisted by Slavko Kovacic, Krankl's assistant, and Willi Ruttensteiner, the under-21 coach.

Although the federation were disappointed by failure to qualify for next year's World Cup, their young Austrian team had shown plenty of promise. Having held England to a 2-2 draw in Vienna at the start of the campaign, thanks in no small part to a terrible blunder by David James, the Austrians went on to beat Wales at home and away.

What did for them was two defeats against Poland, though luck was not on their side in either match. Speculation mounted over Krankl's future at the time of last month's crucial defeat by the Poles in Chorzow and a lacklustre goalless draw against Azerbaijan. After Krankl's departure the situation descended into near-farce when Josef Hickersberger agreed to take over, but only after he had overseen Rapid Vienna's Champions' League campaign.

One of Krankl's regrets will be that he did not have another chance to work with Roland Linz, who has finally begun to fulfil his early promise. The 24-year-old striker has blossomed since returning for a second spell at FK Austria and his three goals over two legs helped take the club into the first round proper of the Uefa Cup.

Linz's performance against the Poles last month was even more impressive. With Austria 2-0 down he came on as a second-half substitute as the team switched from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2. He scored twice, though he was unable to prevent a 3-2 defeat.

The team are led by Andreas Ivanschitz, who became Austria's youngest captain at the age of 20 last year. The Rapid Vienna midfielder, who can also play in attack, has attracted the attention of several leading European clubs. SV Salzburg's René Aufhauser provides strength alongside him.

Stuttgart's Martin Stranzl is likely to be a key figure in defence, which could be Austria's weakest department. Emanuel Pogatetz, the Middlesbrough defender, is suspended. Rapid Vienna's comparatively inexperienced Helge Payer has been preferred in goal to Jürgen Macho, formerly of Sunderland and Chelsea.

Only six of the squad play outside Austria, four of them in Germany. Herzog has called only one new player into his squad, the Austria Vienna midfielder Andreas Lasnik, indicating that the temporary coach has no intention of experimenting. "We want to play with confidence, show courage and take risks to expose England's weaknesses," Herzog said.

"All the pressure is on Sven Goran Eriksson's team. Their recent results were poor and they simply have to beat us at home. We are stronger than Northern Ireland, so everything is possible. We want our players to show their full potential and have fun out on the pitch."

Considering the youthful nature of their team - the average age of the current squad is 25 - Austria will have high hopes of performing well at the 2008 European Championship finals, which they will co-host with Switzerland. Not that the Austrians are ever likely to reach the heights of their "wunderteam" of the 1930s or the side that finished third in the 1954 World Cup.

The last time Austria played here was a friendly in 1973. England's next opponents then - as they are this time - were Poland, who drew 1-1 to qualify for the following year's World Cup, which, like next year's tournament, was held in Germany. England would certainly settle for the same outcome today against Austria, having won that match at Wembley 32 years ago 7-0.

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