Austria relieved at the full-time whistle after Iceland spurn several chances
Two weeks on from Iceland’s tremendous result in Moscow were they in search of further points: Austria were the visitors in Reykjavik. The Austrians themselves had recently gained a creditable away point through their 1-1 in East Germany, and having played fewer matches than the other group members, they were eager to join in the hunt for second spot behind the Soviet Union. This was a race which today’s hosts were more than willing to participate in, too, so this clash carried great importance, and even so to the other teams in the group. This was the final Group 3 match before the autumn’s end race.
Iceland team news
Optimism was high in Iceland after their terrific draw in Moscow, and the national newspapers were trying to summon anyone with an interest in football to come along and support the boys for the hugely important game against Austria. Iceland would have felt that they were in with a shout for finishing second, as the group table was a close affair behind leaders USSR. Manager Sigfried Held was cautiously optimistic, but urged his disciples also to remain focused about the Austrian attack: They could not throw caution to the wind completely. Even a point would leave them with an opportunity to qualify yet.
Since the trip to Moscow, defender Ágúst Már Jónsson, who had come in for the suspended Sævar Jónsson, had been injured whilst in action for his Swedish club side Häcken (during a 2-2 match against Elfsborg), and so it was impeccable timing that Sævar Jónsson again was available to take up his place as one of the three central defenders. Manager Held had kept faith in a 5-3-2 formation since the start of the qualification, and tonight was unlikely to be any different.
There was a big bonus in the fact that Stuttgart captain Ásgeir Sigurvinsson was again available to the hosts. His club side had not wanted to release him for the trip to Moscow, but back in the squad, he would surely recapture a starting berth. Another Moscow starter in midfielder Ómar Torfason was absent from the squad of 16, and so manager Held had brought in Fram defender Viðar Þorkelsson, who was first and foremost a left-sided player. Since the game against the Soviets, even Fram man Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson, another defender, had been ousted from the squad.
The composition of the 16 man squad seemed to tell a tale of which players would be selected for Held’s starting eleven. Big absentees once again were injured forward Arnór Guðjohnsen and midfielder cum striker Ragnar Margeirsson. And still there was no Pétur Ormslev to be seen. The experienced midfielder had not featured since the 3-0 friendly home defeat by Hungary in September last year.
Austria team news
This was Austria’s fourth outing in the on-going qualification, and a result in Iceland would leave them in very optimistic mood ahead of the autumn’s finish. They had perhaps not impressed a lot of people during the draw in East Germany, but they’d travelled home with a point, and a similar outcome tonight would probably leave manager Josef Hickersberger a happy camper. They arrived in Reykjavik on the back of a miserable performance in an Oslo friendly against Norway, where they’d been thumped 4-1. That match had seen the Austrians in a 4-4-2, something which could have been a reaction from the manager following the relatively bleak display in Leipzig.
With this an equally vital match for the Austrians as for the home side, would ‘Pepi’ revert to the 5-3-2 which had served them fairly well, at least result wise, thus far in the qualification? Their squad of 16 was somewhat changed since the 1-1 draw against GDR, with a good few of the players who had been on the bench then nowhere to be seen here in Reykjavik: There was no Ernst Aigner, Andreas Reisinger, Peter Stöger and even back-up goalie Franz Wohlfahrt. In for these four had come goalkeeper Otto Konrad, left-sided defender Josef Degeorgi, league champions Swarovski Tirol’s exciting midfield playmaker Alfred Hörtnagl, and Rapid Vienna’s central defender Peter Schöttel.
Herbert Prohaska, nicknamed ‘Schneckerl’, had been a big player for the Austrian national side since his debut 15 years earlier. Obviously, he had been out for a few years towards the end of his career, as he’d only recently returned in country colours for the second match of this qualification to provide Hickersberger with some much needed know-how in a youngish team. Prohaska had played his final match for Austria Vienna the previous weekend, when they had rounded the season off with a 5-0 win against Grazer AK. A terrific career was coming to an end, and this journey to Iceland would be Prohaska’s final appearance at senior level altogether. If selected, and surely he would be, he would reach his 83rd cap. This was 19 more than fellow 33 year old Heribert Weber, who had been the Austrian captain in their three previous qualifiers.
The humiliating defeat in Oslo had happened without big players such as said Prohaska and striker Toni Polster. The Sevilla marksman was a certain starter now on his return to the squad. Who would Hickersberger pick as Polster’s strike partner, though? And would the highly promising Andy Herzog continue in midfield after a couple of relatively laxidaisical performances in East Germany and in Oslo?
The man in black was a Welshman by the name of Howard King, who was operating in the English league. He was 42 years of age, and Iceland v Austria was his sixth international assignment since his debut well over eight years earlier. He had indeed been in Reykjavik officiating Iceland less than two years before, when tonight’s hosts’ Olympic select had won 2-0 against an East Germany equivalent in the qualification for the 1988 Seoul tournament. Five from the squad of 16 remained for Iceland since that fixture, and were as such known to the referee: Guðni Bergsson, Viðar Þorkelsson, Pétur Arnþórsson, Ólafur Þórðarsson and Guðmundur Torfason.
This was the first ever meeting between the two countries, so there was no record of past meetings.
Summer solstice was approaching, and in Iceland this means light nights. The eight o’clock kick-off did not necessitate the use of floodlights. The pitch appears dry and bumpy, and has patches with less grass on it. There does not seem to be much wind to talk about, and we do not have any record of temperatures for this evening.
|1 Bjarni Sigurðsson||28||Valur|
|2 Gunnar Gíslason||sub 64′||28||Häcken|
|3 Atli Eðvaldsson (c)||32||Valur|
|4 Pétur Arnþórsson||24||Fram|
|5 Guðmundur Torfason||27||Rapid Wien|
|6 Sævar Jónsson||87′||30||Valur|
|7 Guðni Bergsson||23||Tottenham|
|8 Ólafur Þórðarsson||23||Brann|
|9 Sigurður Grétarsson||27||Luzern|
|10 Ásgeir Sigurvinsson||34||Stuttgart|
|11 Sigurður Jónsson||22||Sheffield Wednesday|
|12 Guðmundur Hreiðarsson||28||Víkingur|
|13 Halldór Áskelsson||24||Valur|
|14 Rúnar Kristinsson||19||KR|
|15 Viðar Þorkelsson||on 64′||26||Fram|
|16 Þorvaldur Örlygsson||22||KA|
|1 Klaus Lindenberger||32||Swarovski Tirol|
|2 Kurt Russ||24||First Vienna|
|3 Robert Pecl||89′||23||Rapid Wien|
|4 Anton Pfeffer||23||Austria Wien|
|5 Heribert Weber||33||Rapid Wien|
|6 Manfred Zsak||24||Austria Wien|
|7 Gerhard Rodax||sub h-t||23||Admira/Wacker|
|8 Herbert Prohaska (c)||33||Austria Wien|
|9 Toni Polster||25||Sevilla|
|10 Alfred Hörtnagl||19′, sub 35′||22||Swarovski Tirol|
|11 Peter Artner||23||Admira/Wacker|
|12 Peter Schöttel||22||Rapid Wien|
|13 Andreas Ogris||on h-t||24||Austria Wien|
|14 Andreas Herzog||on 35′||20||Rapid Wien|
|15 Josef Degeorgi||29||Austria Wien|
|16 Otto Konrad||24||Sturm Graz|
It would be the hosts to get this vital fixture under way. This was only their second home fixture of the qualification, and it seemed positive that the attendance figure would trump the near 8k who had been present for the 1-1 draw against the Soviet Union nearly eight months earlier. In the visitors’ ranks, one noticeable fact was that Herbert Prohaska had been tasked with the captaincy on this his final appearance altogether for club and country. It seemed a fitting honour from Hickersberger to one of the country’s greatest footballers of all times, and it must have been an emotional affair for the moustached midfield elegant, who would turn 34 less than two months later.
Hosts almost move straight in front
Our tape of the game is without two minutes and six seconds of action from the first half, and the very moment of kick-off is missing. As we enter proceedings, there is a big throw from the right hand side by full-back Ólafur Þórðarsson. Set-pieces are a major weapon for the Icelandic team, as they are brimful of physically strong and imposing players. Typically, they will order to come up from the back central defenders Sævar Jónsson and captain Atli Eðvaldsson, who both certainly put themselves about. However, this first moment of action is not so much about them, as Austria through midfielder Hörtnagl initially head out Þórðarsson’s throw, but as the ball’s pumped back into the centre, the Austrian defence completely fails in its attempt to play the hosts offside. This leaves forward Sigurður Grétarsson, a flamboyant character featuring in the Swiss league for Luzern on a daily basis, more or less alone with Austrian goalkeeper Klaus Lindenberger, although he is with his back to the goal as the ball eventually drops to him inside the area. The fact that he thinks he can not turn his body to face goal quickly enough to avoid Lindenberger intervening makes Grétarsson look up in support, something which is provided through ageing midfield maestro Ásgeir Sigurvinsson, whose highly experienced set of eyes has read the situation well. He’s made a run into the area to the left of Grétarsson, something which the striker’s spotted, and now with Lindenberger in close proximity, the long-haired number 9 feeds Sigurvinsson the ball. This leaves the Stuttgart ace with a gaping goal to aim at, although he’s somewhat wide to the left, and with Austria’s Peter Artner desperately chasing him, Sigurvinsson’s forced to rush his left-footed effort into a first time one. His side-footed finish narrowly eludes the goal by a foot, as the ball agonisingly ends up in the side-netting. Iceland come so close to taking a stunningly early lead. Austria, having missed in their attempt to place Grétarsson offside, can draw a big sigh of relief that they do not find themselves a goal down.
The opening ten minutes or so hold a lot of the trademarks with which Iceland have presented themselves to the footballing world under the current regime: high pressing, aggression, physicality and use of set-pieces as a means to unsettling the opponents. In front of a packed house, the hosts are keen to show that the point obtained away to the Soviet Union was no fluke. They quickly establish a level of momentum, and the visitors need to be very composed in order not to succumb to this early pressure. Set-pieces come either in the shape of a long throw (Þórðarsson), a free-kick from Sigurður Jónsson, or a corner from Pétur Arnþórsson. These three home players also have it in common that they are the ones with the highest aggression levels. Right-sided defender Þórðarsson gets tackled from behind by Manfred Zsak and immediately confronts the Austrian midfielder with his version of Icelandic hospitality through close range verbal abuse. Jónsson has already had a couple of battles with Herbert Prohaska, and plenty more is to come. They might not be the technically most gifted side around, Iceland, but they sure compensate for this in every way they know. They are an awkward opponent.
Iceland have been set up in 5-3-2 in each of their four previous qualifiers, and manager Sigfried Held has felt absolutely no need to change this. Why would he? Three points from four has been a decent points haul. They’ve left themselves with an outsider’s chance to qualify for a World Cup tournament for the first time in their history. Every opponent might have known in advance what to expect from them, but yet a recipe against them is not easy to produce. If they are capable of holding their own, at least defensively, away to the reigning vice champions of Europe, then surely they have it in their locker to prove a big threat at home to an Austrian side which perhaps still is in search for its identity under Josef Hickersberger.
That massive opportunity through playmaker Sigurvinsson apart, Iceland do not create any telling chances in front of Klaus Lindenberger in the opening ten minutes. They do, however, show to anyone present, and not least to their opponents, that they mean business. Their intimidation game can be a scary proposition, and it will need every ounce of guile from the visitors’ most experienced campaigners to wrestle the Austrians away from this tight grip.
Focus on: Austrian tactics
The away side have also been seen in 5-3-2 in their first three qualifiers, but now their manager has opted to continue in 4-4-2 despite their desperately bleak dress rehearsal in Norway. Their 1-1 in East Germany the previous month had come in 5-3-2. The sudden change seemed strange to on-lookers, although it has to be said that they had yet to deliever a totally convincing performance since the start of the qualification. Perhaps did Hickersberger feel that this crop of players stood a greater chance in a different tactical set-up, or perhaps did he feel that they were competent enough to alter from one formation to another depending on the nature of the opposition. 4-4-2 did seem a gamble, but at least they had the right man to direct them from the back.
Heribert Weber was making his 64th international, and the 33 year old was again his manager’s natural choice as the libero. He’d been sitting quite deep behind two man-markers in their three previous qualifiers, and on this occasion it appeared that he was being kept company relatively deep by the remaining defenders. As a sole central defender ahead of Weber on this occasion was the rugged Robert Pecl, Weber’s team mate at Rapid Vienna. Big in size, he was a formidable opponent in the air, but he was hardly the quickest player on two feet, and when challenged along the deck, Pecl had shown vulnerability before. Hickersberger could’ve decided to go with four at the back through the knowledge that Iceland did not possess typically quick attacking players, even if Sigurður Grétarsson could be a handful in the way he liked to move into the channels. A stretched Pecl could demand a lot from Austria’s central midfield in a defensive capacity, though the 23 year old defender could also be a natural match-up against the more static but aerially much stronger Guðmundur Torfason. Austrian full-backs were Kurt Russ (right) and Anton Pfeffer. Both were versatile players capable of appearing in various positions, and this was the latter of the two’s first display at left-back. He had previously been the left-sided central defender.
In midfield, Austria’s four were from right to left Peter Artner, Manfred Zsak, Herbert Prohaska and Alfred Hörtnagl. This was Artner’s fourth position in four qualifying matches. His display of versatility was almost taken to new levels. He had been trying to mark Aleksandr Zavarov out of the match in their Kiev opener, and he had appeared at both full-backs in their subsequent fixtures against Turkey and East Germany. Now, he was providing width along the right. Artner’s greatest asset seemed to be his loyalty: he would never shirk away from any task. He stuck dutifully to the right hand side throughout, despite his attacking shortcomings. He was there first and foremost to lend right-back Russ defensive reassurance, and would look into the moving patterns of Iceland’s playmaker Sigurvinsson, albeit not in a capacity as a direct marker.
In the centre were Zsak and Prohaska. Whereas the legendary Austria Vienna man was making his farewell appearance as a senior footballer, Manfred Zsak might have been seen at this point as something of his successor. Zsak was a team mate of Prohaska’s in Vienna, and he would be offering the Austrian captain for the occasion defensive support, typically doing the dirty work at the rear of the visitors’ midfield. Prohaska was Hickersberger’s Spielführer since the manager had recalled him back into the national team picture. He had been sitting in the central role in their midfield three during the matches against Turkey and GDR. Now he, too, would have to accept greater responsibility against an opponent of such aggressive nature. Prohaska might have had his greatest strengths in his vision and distibution, but he would also not be afraid to put himself about in challenges. He would often come in direct combat with the difficult ‘Siggi’ Jónsson. It must have been a battle that the latter relished.
The left-sided alibi in this four man Austrian midfield was the clearly more reserved Hörtnagl, who had made his debut in that poor display in Oslo. On that occasion he had started along the right hand side, although he did seem to be more a player in the mould of rising star Andy Herzog as someone who would prefer to be involved slightly more towards the centre. Hörtnagl never managed to settle properly in this contest, and he would see yellow after stamping on Iceland’s left-back Gunnar Gíslason. Against an opponent of such physical nature, Hörtnagl seemed out of sorts. This did not appear to be a battle which the recently crowned Austrian league champion with Swarovski Tirol enjoyed.
Up top, the strong Anton Polster was making his fourth start from four, naturally heading their goalscoring charts with two, albeit he was facing competition in this area from midfielder Herzog, tonight just a substitute, who had also struck twice, both during that 3-2 win against Turkey. Polster had been absent in their friendly loss in Norway, and there the team had shown that there was no real competition for the Sevilla striker’s place. Peter Pacult had attempted to fill his role, but on this occasion the 29 year old forward was not even in the squad. Pacult had also been part of Swarovski Tirol’s league winning side. Alongside Polster, for the second qualifier running, was Gerhard Rodax of Admira/Wacker. He had finished the domestic season with a massive tally of goals to his name, although he had found it difficult to yet transfer this ratio across to the international stage. Rodax had failed to score in any of his seven previous appearances in country colours. On this occasion he was prefered to Andreas Ogris, who had played the full 90 minutes in Oslo, and who had been behind their goal on that occasion. Ogris, a former team mate of Polster at Austria Vienna, was among the five substitutes.
Improved spell for the away side
The visitors appear to fend off Iceland’s initial surge, eventually pushing their team somewhat higher in the pitch after ten minutes of play. They have a prolongued passage of domination in which they shift the ball around their team, with the home players left to chase shadows. Not that Austria look like world beaters, but after having been on the back foot to such an extent early on, it is a definite improvement. However, they lack any kind of creativity in midfield, where Prohaska is usually closed down very quickly, and so Iceland force the visitors into wide positions. Neither Russ/Artner along the right nor Pfeffer/Hörtnagl down the left succeed in playing their forwards into space, and it must be said that Polster and Rodax appear to have a very limited appetite for the battle. The two Austrian forwards both are out of sorts when in possession, and neither are causing much in terms of trouble to the hosts. Is this really the Anton Polster who has been such a nuisance in the Spanish league, and who has scored twice from three qualifying appearances thus far? He seems brutally lost when confronted with the Iceland rearguard, and the visitors’ front two are not proving much in ways of being an outlet for their team mates. Down the other end, balance of play is again about to shift back into the home side’s favour by the time Lindenberger has to come well out of his area to thwart a through ball in the direction of Sigurvinsson.
Just shy of 20 minutes, Austria’s left-sided midfielder Alfred Hörtnagl becomes the first player to have his name taken by the referee. This happens in an incident in which he stamps on Iceland left-back Gunnar Gíslason’s foot. Hörtnagl has had minimal influence on proceedings thus far, and he’s come across towards the right in a rare burst of initiative, but upon losing possession, he makes a meal of trying to retrieve the ball from the hosts. In his eager, he fouls Gíslason. The home player gets back on to his feet after a short while on the deck, and some of the Austrians, Artner, Polster and Rodax, engage in a conversation with the referee after the Welshman has issued the yellow card for Hörtnagl. Not that Mr King is ever seriously contemplating withdrawing his decision.
Iceland formation and tactics
The first half has reached its midway point by the time when Austria’s central midfielder Manfred Zsak has cut in from the left and hit a low shot from all of 25 yards. The shot lacks any degree of sting, and it is a routine catch for Iceland stopper Bjarni Sigurðsson to make. It is the first time the Valur goalkeeper has been called into action, something which says a whole lot about the lack of threat from the visitors.
Just ahead of him, Sigurðsson, playing the first half out with a cap to protect his view from the early evening sunshine, has five men across the back, exactly what had been expected from manager Held. As seen previously, libero is Tottenham player Guðni Bergsson, who so far in the qualification has shown a lot of maturity despite his 23 years of age. Bergsson appears more slim than his fellow two central defenders, but he still has a decent frame, and he is very quick, something which is highly important to the hosts, considering the fact that neither Sævar Jónsson nor captain Atli Eðvaldsson are equipped with too much pace. They make up the central defensive pairing just ahead of the libero, and despite the fact that they both play their football with Valur in Reykjavik, they possess a wealth of international experience following careers abroad. In particular Eðvaldsson, with his many years in West German Bundesliga, can boast an eventful CV. He appears to be a natural leader in the side, despite the presence of some big characters.
Out wide defensively are Ólafur Þórðarsson and Gunnar Gíslason, right and left respectively. This is the norm by now in the qualification. Neither is unfamiliar with more central roles in their respective club sides, but they provide the national team flanks with a lot of bite and aggression defensively. In particular Þórðarsson has a lot to offer in this respect. Throughout the qualification he has truly stood up for the Icelandic cause, and he’s already proved so far in this fixture too that he does not tolerate any misdemeanour from his opponents. Zsak found this out relatively early in the match. It should also be added that neither Þórðarsson nor Gíslason is particularly keen on venturing forward, although they both possess a decent throw, and so are called into action whenever the hosts are presented with throw-ins high in the pitch.
In the centre of the field, Iceland have someone else who does appear to have natural leadership abilities: Sigurður Jónsson had travelled south across the seas to England at an early age to develope as a footballer, and now, at 22, he is already an integral part of Sheffield Wednesday in the English topflight. This is only his third out of five qualifiers, as he’s struggled with injuries, but when available, he’s always someone commanding a lot of respect from opponents. Jónsson is another Icelandic player appearing with plentiful aggression, and he is a big presence in the centre of the pitch. This is something which both Prohaska and Zsak in the visitors’ camp get to feel during the game. As the deeper lying of the three midfielders, Sigurður Jónsson is also in charge of directing traffic.
In a midfield consisting of three players, there is often two players in slightly more advanced roles carrying out most of the running. In the case of this very Iceland eleven, the one going through the miles is Pétur Arnþórsson, who on this occasion is performing in the inside right position. He had been inside left in Moscow, but now, with the left-footed Ásgeir Sigurvinsson back in the side, there was little doubt that the Fram man would be chosen ahead of Ómar Torfason, who had been the third pick in their midfield in the Soviet Union. Arnþórsson never stops tracking, and he is powerfully built, something which comes in handy when in midfield battle. He does lack in finesse, but this is compensated for through the presence of the highly experienced Sigurvinsson, the oldest player in the tie. At 34, Sigurvinsson has completed yet another season in West Germany as the Stuttgart captain, and finishing the season fifth in the league and as losing finalists in the UEFA Cup, it must be said that the Iceland number 10 knows what is demanded at international level. Like Sigurður Jónsson, Sigurvinsson is making his only third appearance of the qualification, and this is only their second together since the opener at home to the USSR. Ásgeir Sigurvinsson is Iceland’s playmaker, and he will even make some interesting forward runs from his inside left midfield role, like when he came so close to opening the scoring early on after collecting Grétarsson’s pass inside the area.
Up front, the hosts’ duo again consists of Sigurður Grétarsson and Guðmundur Torfason, both 27 years of age. Grétarsson’s a key player for this Icelandic side, and he’s a highly dynamic forward with great industry. He likes running into channels, and often draws Austria defender Robert Pecl out wide. However, challenges with the tall Pecl are more commonplace for Torfason, who is the target man in the home side, the player whom the defenders aim for when playing long balls up from the back against a settled Austrian defence. Torfason had been very poor in the Soviet Union, but was clearly more up for this battle, getting his head to quite a few high balls, and also seemingly more interested in chasing opponents down inside the Austrian half of the pitch. This was also something which Grétarsson was quite good at, so usually the visiting defenders would not have an awful lot of time on the ball inside their own half. Defending definitely started with the two strikers from an Icelandic point of view.
Less of a spectacle
There is not an awful lot of talking points between 20 and 30 minutes. Yes, Iceland are probably in the ascendancy, although they’re not creating an awful lot. What happens in front of Klaus Lindenberger is originated through set-pieces, and the ‘keeper on one occasion has to make a punch from an Arnþórsson corner, though the visitors win a free-kick when Torfason has challenged unfairly. A left wing throw from Gíslason is headed clear by Pfeffer, and Sigurvinsson keeps probing from his somewhat advanced midfield position. Usually, the 34 year old will try to look for the constantly mobile Grétarsson, but the striker is monitored well by the Austrian defence, where libero Weber also has to challenge on a number of occasions, and not just sweep. The Austrian back four is a whole lot closer to being square than when they were operating with a five man defensive line, although it is still fair to say that Weber continues to take out some depth behind Pecl.
On 27 minutes, there’s a shooting opportunity for the visitors, who have yet to trouble Sigurðsson at all. Polster has tried to make his way into the area when attempting to take the ball past Bergsson, and the Iceland libero had pulled the big striker back. It appeared as if the Austrians could not quite agree between themselves who would take the ensuing kick, and eventually Weber’s attempt deflected off Bergsson in the defensive wall and away for a resultless right wing corner.
Beyond the half hour mark, Iceland almost reach an opportunity through an impressive forward presence by right-back Þórðarsson, who’s on hand to attempt a shot from a very tight angle after Torfason had again won a header to aim Sigurður Jónsson’s right flank cross into the path of a team mate. However, a combination of Weber and Lindenberger diverted the ball away for a right wing corner. The big talking point in the first half, though, happens on 38 minutes: Austria have for whatever reason, probably tactical, replaced Hörtnagl with Andreas Herzog in what was a straight switch, and as the substitute goes tangling with Þórðarsson almost on the byline, Sigurður Jónsson is again given the opportunity to swing a ball into the centre. He does so impeccably, and captain Eðvaldsson is on hand to guide the cross into the back of the net with a perfect header. The stadium erupts…until they realize that the referee has signalled for a free-kick for the visitors. Judging by the replay, Eðvaldsson was penalised for climbing onto the back of Toni Polster, who’d come back defending, although it seemed a harsh decision. Iceland could feel aggrieved that the goal was not allowed to stand.
On the stroke of half-time
There is a bit of late drama as well, as the menacing Torfason almost gets a goal when he defeats Lindenberger in the air after a deep cross from Þórðarsson along the right hand side. The striker, currently playing for Rapid Vienna, something which makes him team mate of the two Austrian central defenders, bravely goes for the header, and he gets properly flattened by the goalkeeper after he’s connected with the ball. Lindenberger’s nowhere near the ball, and probably Iceland could even have had a good shout for a penalty. As it is, the header lacks power to trickle across the goalline, and Kurt Russ is on hand to mop up. Torfason needs attention from the medical staff before the game can resume. The big striker sure has been a vast improvement since his bleak outing in Moscow. Just over a minute into time added on, the referee blows his whistle for half-time. Austria can be pleased with a 0-0 scoreline.
There had been a further Austrian change during the half-time interval, but another mention should perhaps first be made about the introduction of Andreas Herzog about ten minutes before the break, as he had come on for an Alfred Hörtnagl who was on a yellow. Not to say that the Swarovski Tirol man appeared to be in any imminent danger of being expelled, as he was not involved a great deal, usually sticking to his wide left position, and in general lending a relatively cautious impression. However, Hörtnagl had also not made a big contribution, and so it seemed natural to replace him with a player who had already proved himself earlier in the qualification. Herzog had notched twice in the 3-2 home win against Turkey, and the Rapid Vienna ace was earning his growing reputation. The 20 year old had slotted straight into the left-sided midfield position.
The visiting forwards had struggled to make much of an impact during the first half, and Hickersberger had decided to withdraw Gerhard Rodax after a very disappointing showing. The Admira/Wacker striker had again come into wide positions, but to little avail, and co-work with Toni Polster was almost non-existing. This prompted the manager to leave Rodax in the dressing room for the start of the second half, with Polster’s former Austria Vienna chum Andreas Ogris on in his place. This also meant that the visitors would have no further substitutions to make for the remainder of the game, which perhaps seemed a tad risky considering what was at stake, and considering the fact that there was still 45 minutes left for play on a bumpy pitch against an opponent of a very physical nature.
The hosts remained unchanged as Austria proceeded to kick the second half into motion through Polster, a bleak shadow of himself during the opening 45, and midfield veteran Herbert Prohaska, making his final ever appearance at senior level. Could the Austria Vienna stalwart aid his country to two precious World Cup qualifying points in his final assignment?
Iceland back on the front foot
Austria had made safety first their priority, though they had found it difficult to deal with Iceland’s set-pieces during the first half. Again, they appeared to be playing a low risk game, sitting back and trying to be compact across the backline and the midfield. However, they would almost immediately come under the cosh, as the hosts were given an early opportunity to swing a right wing free-kick into the area. Sigurður Jónsson carried the responsibility, and with a minute and a half on the clock, he almost found his captain in the centre. However, Eðvaldsson, appearing behind Heribert Weber’s back, had struck his arm out as he attempted in vain to reach the ball with his head, and the referee had blown his whistle.
It would not take too long before the hosts again exploited some uncertainty at the back for the visitors. It goes without saying that it happened from another set-piece, as a left wing corner by the industrious Pétur Arnþórsson found big defender Sævar Jónsson on the near post for a flick-on. Jónsson had got his head to the ball just before Manfred Zsak or Anton Pfeffer could get to it, and his flick set Sigurður Grétarsson up for a side-footed finish from five yards. The Luzern based forward had escaped any attention from the Austrian defenders, and with the goal gaping, he proceeded to hit the crossbar with Klaus Lindenberger beaten. It had been another lucky escape for the away side, who only two minutes later, around the 54 minute mark, again would draw a huge sigh of relief. And again, Grétarsson would be the culprit in failing to convert a big opportunity. In fact, how he managed to direct Ólafur Þórðarsson’s low ball in from the right just wide of Lindenberger’s upright must remain a mystery for the flamboyant forward to this day.
Austria had desperately appealed for offside as Þórðarsson had exploited some weak defensive positioning by Herzog, and with the benefit of a clear view of the centre of the penalty area, the right-sided player aimed his cross perfectly for Grétarsson. Lindenberger would’ve stood no chance had the forward directed his finish inside the goal frame. Ten yards out the Iceland number 9 placed his effort a yard wide. As it was, the visitors appeared to have no end of lucky charm.
Austrians lacking in forward bite
The hosts could’ve been forgiven for thinking it was not their day, as they had wasted a good few opportunities by now to move in front. However, they kept plugging away, and although the Austrians for a few minutes managed to hold on to the ball and even keep possession inside the home side’s half, the Icelandics never felt threatened. Left-back Anton Pfeffer had a desperate attempt at goal from all of 30 yards after the ball had been played to him in a central position, but the ball never left the deck, and it trickled harmlessly to the right of Sigurðsson’s goal. Still, this was about as close as they’d come all evening. Attack-wise, the Austrians were simply woeful in Reyjkavik.
Iceland’s left-back Gunnar Gíslason had taken a couple of knocks, and with just under 20 minutes gone in the second half, he would have to leave the pitch and be substituted with Viðar Þorkelsson, who would make his first appearance of the current qualification. The 26 year old Fram player was still no stranger to the international stage, as he’d won 22 caps already. Þorkelsson would be a direct replacement for Gíslason, who was not severely injured, but who had been showing facial grimaces in the moments prior to exiting.
Free-kick inside the box
Another huge opportunity would come the hosts’ way a couple of minutes after the introduction of Þorkelsson. Grétarsson, who despite his close range misses had played a fine game so far, saw Ásgeir Sigurvinsson’s run through the centre and played a quick pass in the midfield veteran’s direction. Sigurvinsson seemed to have a clear run on goal, as the Austrian defence opened up in front of him. However, as he got into the area, he got obstructed by Peter Artner, who was desperately trying to track Sigurvinsson down. Just before the ageing Iceland playmaker could get a toe-poke away as Lindenberger had been rushing off his goalline in an attempt to close him down, Artner obstructed the Iceland number 10, and the referee decided to award the home team a free-kick inside the area. Technically, Mr King probably made the right decision, although this seemed to enrage the home fans, who were shouting for a penalty. Sigurvinsson would get another opportunity to shoot from the indirect free-kick, as Arnþórsson poked the ball to him. The Stuttgart captain’s effort was struck low and with venom, but even if it escaped the defensive wall, it also went just wide to the right of Lindenberger’s goal, and yet another chance had been spurned.
Any Austrian improvement?
With both Austrian substitutes coming on early, had Hickersberger got the reaction he would’ve been looking for? Probably not. The two Andys, Herzog and Ogris, had yet exerted minimal influence on the game, something which must have been disappointing for the chief in the away dug-out. Herzog had continued his predecessor Hörtnagl’s laboured approach, appearing very cautious and relatively sparsely involved. Ogris, too, had fallen into the Icelandic defensive trap, and despite his knowledge from playing with Polster at club level earlier, there was little that the pair could muster between them. Polster had won a free-kick just outside the area when Bergsson had handballed, and on this occasion it had been midfielder Zsak being allowed to have a pop. He did actually manage to strike on target, but his shot was low and without much pace, and it was a routine save low down to his left for Sigurðsson to make.
How about the Austrian midfield? How did Prohaska rate in his final appearance? Well, in truth, he could also not assert an awful lot of influence, as the hosts were mainly in charge. There had been a short spell in both halves in which Austria had been given time enough on the ball to string a few passes together inside Iceland’s half, but they lacked any penetration. Prohaska was usually so good in threading a pass through whenever a team mate had made a run, but on this occasion off-the-ball runs from any Austrian were limited. There was little initiative inside enemy territory from either of Artner or Herzog along the flanks, and Prohaska’s midfield comrade Zsak was all too concerned in his defensive work to make any forward contribution. And with the two (three) up top having such static and tame performances, it was easy to understand how Sigurðsson remained more or less unemployed throughout.
The game has a scrappy ending, where there is little happening in terms of quality or interest. The hosts appear to have run out of steam, possibly disjointed from missing several gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead, and the visitors are more than content to see the game out with the score locked at 0-0. There is a booking for either side before the full time whistle: Iceland defender Sævar Jónsson, who was just back after suspension from a red card, clattered into Ogris from behind inside the Austrian half, and a couple of minutes later, right before full time, away defender Robert Pecl got booked for an attempt to delay time as he kicked the ball away after conceding a corner kick.
There is also time for a late Þórðarsson cross from the byline after some poor defensive work yet again by Herzog, whose tackle on the Iceland wide man kept the ball in play rather than letting it go out for a goal kick, gave Þórðarsson the opportunity to search out Eðvaldsson on the far post. However, Kurt Russ headed the ball away just in the nick of time. And that was it, really. Full time.
The hosts were the better side in an opening half of not a lot of goalscoring opportunities, and their physical approach seemed to unsettle the visitors, who could not quite live with the hosts in the air. It was thus Iceland had what looked like a perfectly good goal disallowed, as Eðvaldsson possibly climbed on Polster following a Sigurður Jónsson free-kick from the right. After the break, the home side lined up a good few opportunities, and Grétarsson wasted two big ones within the space of two minutes: His first effort hit the bar, the second he sent just wide. And later, even the impressive Sigurvinsson fired a free-kick from 14 yards just wide of Lindenberger’s goal. Austria mustered two weak efforts on target from a distance, and Sigurðsson was never troubled. The away side were celebrating their point at the end as if they’d won.
1 Sigurðsson 6.7
keeps his concentration in a game where he is almost surplus to requirements. Two catches low down after attempts from distance
2 Gíslason 6.6
rarely tested defensively, and offers not so much in going forward. Off after taking a couple of knocks
(15 Þorkelsson 6.8
enthusiastic after coming on, and offers width along the left)
3 Eðvaldsson 7.1
another tidy performance in which he demonstrates his aerial strength. Clearly frustrated that his goal was not allowed to count
4 Arnþórsson 7.0
provides the legs in midfield, and ensures that Austria have little success in the midfield compartment
5 G Torfason 7.2
a huge step up from his dire performance last time around: won headers, chased defenders, close to scoring right before half time. Game picture suited him
6 Sæ. Jónsson 6.9
tough customer, little trouble against either of the Austrian strikers. Booked for a cynical foul late on
7 Bergsson 6.8
played it safe all evening, stayed back. Could’ve been used more frequently to build from the back
8 Þórðarsson 7.1
an outlet along the right, and offers aggression throughout. Late cross close to finding Eðvaldsson on the back post
9 Grétarsson 7.2
lacked composure in front of goal, but the way he drew defenders out of position was at times a joy to behold. A big handful through his movability
10 Sigurvinsson 7.4
a cut above the rest through his midfield energy, and not least through his class in distribution. Should’ve scored on two occasions
11 Si. Jónsson 7.2
part of a well-oiled midfield machinery, and won a lot of challenges due to his impressive physique
1 Lindenberger 7.0
misjudged the ball in from the right when Torfason almost scored late first half, but other than that acted solidly both on the line and in the air
2 Russ 6.7
Iceland rarely attacked wide left, and so Russ was let off the hook defensively, but could have given more support going forward. Instructions probably held him back
3 Pecl 6.5
a true battler, but often found his match in the air in Torfason, and also struggled to cope with Grétarsson when challenged along the ground
4 Pfeffer 6.7
competent, but also exposed in the air by Torfason. Focused on defensive duties
5 Weber 7.1
again kept defence together through his positioning and ability to read the game. Not tall in frame, but won a lot in the air
6 Zsak 6.7
industrious performance, but delievery failed to reach necessary standards
7 Rodax 6.1
so much more is expected from someone like him, but he fails to deliever in a side with a largely defensive mindset. Attempts a couple of runs along the channels, but unable to be direct, and loses out in battle every time
(13 Ogris 6.3
signs of improved co-existence with Polster after his second half arrival, but predominantly pulled wide and posed minimal threat)
8 Prohaska 6.9
the orchestrator in the Austrian midfield, and one may wonder how this team will do without him. Passing ok, but mainly of a cautious nature. Not a lot of movement ahead of him. Lost a good few battles with ‘Siggi’ Jónsson. Still far from shamed in his final ever appearance
9 Polster 6.3
back to goal for most of the game, although won two free-kicks off Bergsson just outside the box in either half. Could also not make an impression in the air, where he even lost out to Eðvaldsson for the disallowed goal
10 Hörtnagl 5.8
this is very poor: next to no initiative, and as a result is hardly seen in possession at all. Weak, and poses absolutely no threat whatsoever. Poorly timed tackle on Gíslason leads to booking, and is withdrawn on 35 mins
(14 Herzog 6.2
for a player of his reputed calibre, he gave a performance well below pair. More or less glued to the left hand side, and all too little came through him. Defensively also wobbly on a couple of occasions)
11 Artner 6.4
another anonymous performer, and supposedly just in the side to act as a destructive force. No attacking contribution from his side, but at least in control of the right hand side defensively along with Russ