Alaba holds key to Austria's prospects

Austria's midfielder David Alaba during a training session in Mallemort, southern France, on June 9. The last time Austria and Hungary met at a major tournament was in the quarter-finals of the 1934 World Cup, when Austria won 2-1.
Austria's midfielder David Alaba during a training session in Mallemort, southern France, on June 9. The last time Austria and Hungary met at a major tournament was in the quarter-finals of the 1934 World Cup, when Austria won 2-1. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GROUP F

Austria v Hungary

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BORDEAUX • Seen by many as dangerous dark horses at Euro 2016, Austria have an early chance to underline their credentials when they begin their Group F campaign against old rivals Hungary today.

The game in Bordeaux will be the 138th meeting of the two nations, but their first encounter in a decade and their first competitively in more than 30 years.

Their only previous clash at a major tournament came in the quarter-finals of the 1934 World Cup in Italy, when Austria won 2-1, and Marcel Koller's men are the favourites to triumph again this time.

Propelled by star David Alaba, Austria were superb in qualifying and the Bayern Munich full-back, who is deployed in midfield by his country, will be the man to watch out for against Hungary.

"He plays an important role in midfield, particularly because he brings a lot of experience to the table. We hope he continues to perform as well for the national team this summer as he has in qualification and throughout the season as a whole," team-mate Marko Arnautovic, of Stoke City, told Uefa.com.

Arnautovic is one of several Austrians coming into the European Championship on the back of impressive seasons in England, with Leicester City left-back Christian Fuchs and Tottenham Hotspur defender Kevin Wimmer also set to feature.

Hungary, who beat Norway in a play-off to reach a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup, have no such star presence and are expected to struggle in a group also containing Portugal and Iceland.

The game will nevertheless be a special occasion for goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, famous for always wearing trousers on the pitch and set to become the oldest player at a Euro if he starts at the age of 40.

"I've always told him that age isn't important for me," Hungary's German coach Bernd Storck said of Kiraly. "I don't care if a player is young or old, he has to be good. Gabor is good - he's outstanding."

It will also be a memorable evening for the Austrian full-back Gyorgy Garics who, as his name suggests, is Hungarian by birth and only moved to Austria as a 14-year-old.

"I will certainly sing the Austrian anthem and probably the Hungarian as well and I think no one can blame me for that," he said. "I hope we will get three points against Hungary, but after that I'll support them as well to advance."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Alaba holds key to Austria's prospects'. Print Edition | Subscribe