Josef Hickersberger had been appointed manager for the Austrian national team from January 1988, with the 1990 World Cup as his first aim. In fact, his appointment came as a surprise to many, who pointed out that he had little previous experience as a manager: his only non-player job hitherto had been with Austria’s U21s. Hickersberger’s background with the U21s would be important for his team selection, as his team probably was the youngest in the entire European qualification zone for Italia’90.
Josef Hickersberg (40) had been appointed manager for the Austrian national team from January 1988, with the 1990 World Cup as his first aim. In fact, his appointment came as a surprise to many, who pointed out that he had little previous experience as a manager: his only non-player job hitherto had been with Austria’s U21s. Hickersberger’s background with the U21s would be important for his team selection, as his team probably was the youngest in the entire European qualification zone for Italia’90. As his right hand was former Rapid Vienna assistant manager Walter Gebhardt, and among the coaching staff was legendary goalkeeper Friedrich Koncilia.
Two players remained from the great Austrian team that participated in the 1978 World Cup: Herbert Prohaska and Heribert Weber (Hickersberger had of course himself been part of the 1978 team). In addition, Klaus Lindenberger and Josef Degeorgi had been part of the 1982 squad. Since then, Austria had not qualified for a major tournament, and for the 1988 Euro, they had never come close to challenging Romania and Spain in their group. The squad had however already under Branko Elsner in the European Championships qualifiers had a fairly low average age, and hope was that this team could blossom under Hickersberger in time for Italia’90.
During the 80s, Austria had only once been successful in qualifying for a major tournament: the ’82 World Cup in Spain. In the previous attempt at reaching a World Cup, ahead of Mexico ’86, Austria had finished third behind winners Hungary and runners-up Netherlands. Yet around this time, they had boasted some truly wonderful players. They had goalkeeper Friedrich Koncilia, who had reached 84 caps, a considerable figure in 1985, by the time of his international retirement. In defence, Bruno Pezzey (may he rest in peace) had probably been their linchpin, and he had played for a decade in the West German Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen, eventually also bowing out with 84 caps to his name. The most notable midfielders were probably Herbert Prohaska and Kurt Jara, whilst strikers Walter Schachner and Hans Krankl were household names throughout the continent. Hickersberger’s rebuilding task was a mammoth one; he had a lot of relatively recent footballing greats to be reminded of.
At the start of the qualification for Italia ’90, ‘Pepi’ seemed to rely on the seasoned Heribert Weber as his squad’s focal point. The 33 year old libero might have been in the twilight of his international career, but he still possessed some speed, and his experience was invaluable for the youngish side which the manager was putting together. Weber had been a national team member since the late 70s, and he had indeed come on as a substitute for all three of their ’78 World Cup first phase matches. Another player of this era was midfield man Ernst Baumeister, still a national team participant in friendlies leading up to the start of the qualification, though he would ultimately not be a part of Hickersberger’s plans. Herbert Prohaska would, however, be seen during the qualification.
The 1990 qualification as far as Austria were concerned, belonged to the up and coming generation of footballers. One would get to know players such as defenders Kurt Russ, Robert Pecl, Peter Artner, Ernst Aigner and Anton Pfeffer, as well as midfielders Peter Stöger, Manfred Zsak and Andreas Herzog. Up front, in addition to the already well known Polster and Pacult, were Andreas Ogris and also Gerhard Rodax. The future appeared to have elements of optimism, though it remained to be seen whether these could cut it at international level during a gruelling qualification.
Friendly: Hungary 0-4 Austria
Goals: Marko 3, Hasenhüttl
Line-up (3-5-2): Lindenberger – Pecl, Weber (c) (Schöttel 81), Artner (Werner 81) – Willfurth, Russ, Baumeister (Stöger h-t), Zsak, Pfeffer – Pacult (Hasenhüttl h-t), Marko)
Friendly: Austria 0-2 Brazil
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger (Wohlfahrt 90) – Russ, Artner (Stöger h-t), Weber (c), Pecl (Schöttel 82), Pfeffer – Willfurth, Zsak, Baumeister (Polster 57) – Ogris, Pacult (Madlener 82)
The first half saw no goals, as Austria started well, but faded as the half progressed. They had little penetration, and instead owed to goalkeeper Lindenberger (saved with his legs when Artner almost put through his own net) and the post (Nelsinho with an awful miss in front of a gaping goal) for shutting the Brazilian Olympic select out. Stöger comes on for Artner at half-time, and slots into midfield, with Zsak dropping back into defence. Zsak will return to midfield when Polster comes on, as Hickersberger seems to make the switch to 4-3-3. Brazil have central defender Batista sent off for hauling Pacult down from behind in the centre-circle 20 minutes into the second period. At this point, the visitors are already ahead thanks to Edmar’s goal. Austria are unable to muster much in terms of danger in front of Brazil’s goal, and a tame shot by Pacult from 25 yard is about the closest they get. In the dying minutes, they concede a second, as no one appears interested in stopping Andrade’s solo effort for 2-0. Wohlfahrt comes on in injury time for the injured Lindenberger, who had collided with Brazil substitute Ademir when denting a third goal for the visitors.
Friendly: Hungary 0-0 Austria
Line-up: Wohlfahrt (Konsel h-t) – Willfurth, Weber (c), Russ, Pfeffer – Artner, Zsak (Madlener 85), Baumeister (Glatzmayer h-t) – Ogris, Polster, Pacult (Kern h-t)
Polster strikes the post with a second half penalty on his return to the starting line-up. The match sees the debut of 19 year old midfielder Gerald Glatzmayer.
Friendly: Czechoslovakia 4-2 Austria
Goals: Pacult, Willfurth
Line-up: Lindenberger (Wohlfahrt h-t) – Willfurth, Pfeffer, Weber (c), Pecl (Schöttel h-t), Hörmann – Artner, Zsak (Glatzmayer 76), Herzog – Ogris (Pacult h-t), Polster
Qualifier 1: Soviet Union 2-0 Austria
19.10.1988, Respublykanskyi Stadion (Kiev)
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger – Zsak, Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Degeorgi – Willfurth, Artner, Hörmann (Herzog 62) – Keglevits, Polster
The outcome had a lot of inevitability about it, and Austria more or less got what their negative tactics deserved. They never managed to pose an attacking threat, despite the endeavour of Polster up top. Weber pulled the strings at the back, Pfeffer kept Protasov quiet, but they were overrun in midfield, where Artner was lost to the anchor role as he was only intent on shadowing Zavarov. Scoreline just about right. Artner and Pfeffer picked up bookings.
Qualifier 2: Austria 3-2 Turkey
02.11.1988, Praterstadion (Vienna)
Goals: Polster, Herzog 2
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger – Artner, Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Degeorgi – Willfurth (Pacult 55), Prohaska, Herzog (Glatzmayer 68) – Ogris, Polster
The big talking point pre-match was naturally the legendary Herbert Prohaska’s return to the national team after a three and a half year absence. Appearing in the deep midfield role, he was equipped with a lot of responsibility, and his bags of experience saw him through. Andy Ogris was back to partner his old Austria Vienna mate Toni Polster up top, and the pair were behind the opening goal. Starlet Andy Herzog then struck twice, and the game could’ve become a rout had Turkey not got their grip together. Austria had been efficient scoring three times, but were never all too convincing at the back, despite a fine performance from libero Heribert Weber.
Friendly: Austria 0-1 Italy
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger – Willfurth, Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Degeorgi (Hörmann 71) – Zsak, Prohaska, Herzog (Linzmaier 87) – Ogris (Rodax 61), Polster
Despite being second best in possession for most of the game, Austria could still have been pleased about their performance. They soaked up some pressure, and in hitting the visitors on the break, they made Zenga work several times. Zsak’s long distance shooting brought two saves in the first half, and both Polster and substitute Rodax also had efforts stopped. Prohaska was a major midfield influence as long as his feet carried him, though some really heavy first half showers had probably taken their toll on the ageing maestro.
Friendly: Austria 1-2 Czechoslovakia
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger – Willfurth (Reisinger 63), Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Degeorgi – Stöger, Zsak, Herzog – Keglevits (Rodax 63), Pacult
In practice for next month’s vital qualifier in Leipzig, Austria lost for the second time in just over half a year against Czechoslovakia. With no Prohaska or Polster, they lacked the necessary quality to put the visitors to the sword, and they had to rely on a fantastic piece of individualism from Herzog for their goal. The forward pairing was unable to make an impact on a strong defence, though Austria would improve after the double substitution. Fine debut for wide left player Reisinger.
Qualifier 3: East Germany 1-1 Austria
20.05.1989, Zentralstadion (Leipzig)
Line-up (5-3-2): Lindenberger – Russ, Pecl, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Artner – Zsak, Prohaska, Herzog (Stöger 60) – Rodax (Ogris 68), Polster
In what was only Austria’s third qualifier, they would secure a valuable away point. However, it could’ve been so much better had they managed to hold on to their slender lead for another few minutes: They’d allowed GDR to equalize on 86 minutes. Polster had finished comfortably in the third minute to put them ahead, but there was not to be a second successive qualifying win for the visitors. Rodax made his first appearance of the qualification to partner Polster up front.
Friendly: Norway 4-1 Austria
Line-up (4-4-2): Lindenberger (Konrad h-t) – Russ, Pecl (Degeorgi h-t), Weber (c) (Aigner h-t), Pfeffer – Hörtnagl, Zsak, Herzog (Stöger 64), Reisinger – Ogris, Pacult (Rodax 64)
Back again in 4-4-2, Austria are a shambles at the back in Oslo as they concede two avoidable first half goals. Reisinger’s first start seemed just reward for the promise he’d showed in April against Czechoslovakia, and along the right of midfield Alfred Hörtnagl, 22, got his debut, but their uninspired team made it impossible for any one individual to shine. Three half-time changes included two more debutants in goalkeeper Otto Konrad,24, and new, young libero Ernst Aigner, 22. Zsak took over the captaincy. Pfeffer came into the centre, with Degeorgi going to left-back. There were two further soft goals conceded, before Ogris pulled a goal back after a scuffed shot from substitute Rodax.
Qualifier 4: Iceland 0-0 Austria
14.06.1989, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Line-up (4-4-2): Lindenberger – Russ, Pecl, Weber, Pfeffer – Artner, Zsak, Prohaska (c), Hörtnagl (Herzog 35) – Rodax (Ogris h-t), Polster
Austria were somewhat fortunate to return back home with a point after being on the back foot for much of the bright Reykjavik summer evening. The hosts had a major opportunity early on, a goal a bit dubiously disallowed before the break, and then Austria rode their luck on three further second half occasions. They themselves did not manage to threaten Iceland’s goal properly on a single occasion, and they were lacklustre throughout in what was Austrian legend Herbert Prohaska’s final ever game at senior level. The visitors celebrated the 0-0 draw at the end as if they’d won.
Qualifier 5: Austria 2-1 Iceland
23.08.1989, Stadion Lehen (Salzburg)
Goals: Pfeifenberger, Zsak
Line-up (4-3-3): Lindenberger – Russ, Weber (c), Pecl (Streiter 31), Pfeffer – Linzmaier, Zsak, Herzog (Hörtnagl 59) – Ogris, Rodax, Pfeifenberger
Having been dominated quite heavily by their Icelandic visitors ten weeks earlier, Austria knew they had to get their performance, and more importantly the result, right in the reverse encounter. They would have to make do without Prohaska, who had retired, and with Polster among their substitutes after he’d picked up a slight knock in a test match against a local side. This gave Salzburg lad Pfeifenberger the chance, and he accepted it gleefully as he got their opener on his debut. They were immediately pegged back, but Zsak, in control of midfield, scored a wonder goal to regain their lead. They’d hold on without too much trouble to lay claim on second place.
Qualifier 6: Austria 0-0 Soviet Union
06.09.1989, Praterstadion (Vienna)
Line-up (4-4-2): Lindenberger – Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Streiter – Linzmaier, Zsak, Herzog (Hörtnagl 78), Artner – Ogris (Rodax 66), Polster
Having just secured two precious points against Iceland, Hickersberger would again adapt to the circumstances as he altered the formation again: A 4-4-2 was chosen to stand a better chance against the group favourites. With both Artner and Polster returning, it meant that goalscorer Pfeifenberger was sacrificed from the Iceland game. In a game where both teams had a defensive approach, chances were at a minimum, and neither side looked like opening the scoring. Lindenberger made two fine, but routine, saves in the second half. Austria were second in terms of possession, but remained composed and collected throughout. Valuable point indeed.
Friendly: Malta 1-2 Austria
04.10.1989, Ta’Qali National Stadium (Attard)
Goals: Glatzmayer, Rodax
Line-up: Lindenberger (Konsel h-t) – Artner (Russ h-t), Weber (c), Pfeffer (Pecl h-t), Streiter – Linzmaier, Zsak (Aigner 66), Glatzmayer, Hörtnagl – Ogris (Westerthaler h-t), Rodax.
Qualifier 7: Turkey 3-0 Austria
25.10.1989, Ali Sami Yen Stadyumu (Istanbul)
Line-up (4-4-2): Lindenberger – Russ, Weber (c), Pfeffer, Streiter – Linzmaier, Zsak, Herzog (Glatzmayer 58), Artner (Rodax h-t) – Ogris, Polster
Austria never got to grips with aggressive hosts in hostile surroundings, and fell behind as early as the 15th minute when Streiter could not prevent a cross from the right hand side to be headed home by Rıdvan. Artner was supposedly man-marking the Turkish forward ace, but never got to grips with him, and when Hickersberger substituted Artner at half-time, he brought on Rodax to go three up top. This backfired, as the Austrian midfield left large pockets of space for quick Turkish players to exploit. Two further goals followed, the second due to a poor error from starlet Herzog, who was substituted not long after. Only a couple of Polster efforts were on target, as well as an early header from Weber, but altogether Austria had too little to offer against a very decent opponent.
Qualifier 8: Austria 3-0 East Germany
15.11.1989, Praterstadion (Vienna)
Goals: Polster 3 (1 pen.)
Line-up (3-5-2): Lindenberger – Pecl, Aigner, Pfeffer – Keglevits, Artner, Zsak (c), Linzmaier, Hörtnagl – Ogris (Herzog 75) (Pfeifenberger 82), Polster
Despite the absence of vital libero and captain Heribert Weber, as well as the suspended Kurt Russ, Austria put on a performance to earn World Cup participation. They struck thrice through the revitalised Toni Polster, although the second had come from a hugely controversial penalty. GDR had failed to beat Klaus Lindenberger from the spot on the half hour, and there was only ever going to be one winner in a one-sided contest in which Austria probably played their best game of the qualification.
Having been far away from qualifying for the 1988 European Championships, Austria had parted ways with Yugoslavian manager Branko Elsner, and they had appointed former international Josef Hickersberger to succeed him. The World Cup qualification group had initially seemed one which they could be contenders from, even if they did appear to be something of an unknown quantity. Former greats such as great libero Bruno Pezzey and forward Walter Schachner had retired internationally since the previous qualification, and despite featuring domestically, midfield general Herbert Prohaska had since long not featured in the national team jersey. Thus, they were a young side, with fine defender Heribert Weber the new manager’s only remnant from their fine era of the late 70s and early 80s, which had seen them participate in successive World Cups in 1978 and 1982. Weber would assume the captain’s role in Hickersberger’s team.
Austria played three late summer friendlies before embarking on their qualification. They lost at home to the Brazilian Olympic select, a defeat which soon would be seen in light of their opponents’ Seoul gold medals, and then held their adversaries Hungary to a goalless draw in Budapest, before losing 4-2 in Czechoslovakia. Some players, like relatively young Kurt Russ, Anton Pfeffer, Peter Artner and Manfred Zsak, would feature in all three friendlies, where said Weber had indeed captained the side. They had also featured their latest sale abroad: Striker Toni Polster, who had remained goalless from these fixtures. Hickersberger would line his team up in 5-3-2 in the Soviet Union, where they had been second best almost throughout, despite Artner attempting to stick close to Soviet playmaker Zavarov. There had been a surprise recall for striker Christian Keglevits, who had been an exciting young member of their 1982 World Cup squad.
Only two weeks after the defeat in Kiev, Austria would play their first home qualifier, and they’d overcome a Turkish side which had begun the qualification with a 1-1 home draw against expected fellow group minnows Iceland. The big news was the return of midfield legend Herbert Prohaska to the national team after a three and a half years absence. Despite never being totally convincing, Austria had gone into a 3-0 lead during the second half, after a brace from up and coming midfielder Andy Herzog and a strike from Polster. Turkey would put the Austrian defence to the test, though, and the hosts had been fortunate that they’d left it late until conceding for a second time. They’d hold on for two vital points, setting them up for an interesting 1989.
Austria would play two spring home friendlies, both which would end in one goal defeats; Italy and then Czechoslovakia would prove too strong for their inexperienced side. A trip to Leipzig to play East Germany then resulted in an important 1-1 draw. GDR had recently lost twice to Turkey, who were suddenly emerging as outsiders for the second spot in the table. However, vitally, the Soviet Union had defeated the Turkish a few days before Austria’s tie in East Germany. Polster had notched early against a shaken opponent, although the rest of the game had seen the visitors sit back and try to catch the hosts on the counter. Austria had seen the home side strike late to claim a point. It had been their third successive qualifier in 5-3-2.
The Austrians were heading to Iceland for a mid-summer fixture. Their Reykjavik hosts had recently managed a quite sensational point in the Soviet Union, their second against the group leaders, and so were clearly no pushovers. A shockingly poor 4-1 friendly defeat in Oslo against Norway had preceeded the trip to Iceland, where Austria, in 4-4-2 this time around, like in Norway, had hung on to obtain a highly fortunate point. The hosts had several large goalscoring opportunities in the clash which ended 0-0. Herbert Prohaska, appearing in his third straight qualifier, had since long uttered that he would retire from the playing field following the game in Iceland.
To the day ten weeks after the debacle in the North Atlantic, Austria welcomed home to Salzburg Iceland, and this time around it was a different affair. While Hickersberger had decided to abandon the 4-4-2 formation which had not worked them well yet, he set his side up in an attacking 4-3-3 as they were searching their second win of the qualification. It took them until the second half to move in front through Salzburg favourite Heimo Pfeifenberger, appearing in his inaugural qualifier, although Iceland had pegged them back immediately after. Then a wonder strike from Manfred Zsak saw the Austrians claim both points in a game which they had dominated, even if the islanders had threatened through not least lively forward Grétarsson.
Six points from five matches saw Austria in pole position in the group ahead of their home clash with the Soviet Union. A draw seemed to be in the interest of their visitors, too, and so a 0-0 outcome always seemed likely in a drab game. ‘Pepi’ had once again decided to deploy that 4-4-2 formation which had earlier failed them, although against a static USSR team they had rarely been threatened. Zsak had come close to opening the scoring with a first half header, though ultimately a point had been a good return. An October friendly win in Malta (2-1) was their preparation ahead of a vital trip to Istanbul to play a rejuvenated Turkish side.
In 4-4-2 once again, Austria were undressed by an impulsive home side. The three goal margin with which Turkey had won had been thoroughly deserved. They’d put a poor Austrian side to the wall, and there had been very few bright points from that display as far as Hickersberger was concerned. They had tried to change things around at half time, taking midfielder Artner off for a third striker in Gerhard Rodax, but to little avail. Austria had failed to live with the aggression and enthusiasm of their hosts, and they would not have to wait and see whether they could claim World Cup qualification on the final day of qualification. They would invite home to Vienna an East German outfit which were on a rollercoaster ride hitherto in the qualification.
Praterstadion was packed to the rafters as Austria scored early to gain control of their unfocused visitors. The 3-5-2 formation seemed to serve them well, as they won the midfield battle. It was to be their sole foreign based player Toni Polster’s big night: The burly forward scored no less than three times as they overwhelmed their visitors. Polster laid claim to the group’s top goalscorer’s title with five, and it was a performance which had deserved the Austrians the two points. With the outcome in Simferopol going their way at the same time, no one could longer deny Austria a place in the World Cup. They had qualified as runners-up from their group.
Final position: 2 (out of 5 – qualified)
Total record: 8 3 3 2 9-9 9
Home record: 4 3 1 0 8-3 7
Away record: 4 0 2 2 1-6 2
Number of players used: 24
Number of players including unused substitutes: 29
Ever-presents (720 mins): 2 (Lindenberger, Pfeffer)
Leading goalscorer: Polster (5)
Yellow/red cards: 12/0
– game by game
|Player||Sov (a)||Tur (h)||Gdr (a)||Ice (a)||Ice (h)||Sov (h)||Tur (a)||Gdr (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
28.02.1990 Egypt 0-0 Austria
28.03.1990 Spain 2-3 Austria
11.04.1990 Austria 3-0 Hungary
03.05.1990 Austria 1-1 Argentina
30.05.1990 Austria 3-2 Netherlands