Twice Chris Coleman’s men led in Vienna against group rivals Austria and twice they were pegged back, Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City at the double to thwart Wales, who seized the initiative at first through Arnautovic’s Stoke City teammate Joe Allen, who struck a wonderful half volley, and then a fortunate Kevin Wimmer own goal right on half-time.
It was not the best of performances from Wales who were forced to battle for their share of the spoils, but a point was the least both teams deserved for their efforts and Coleman’s opposite number Marcel Koller will surely be just as happy in the circumstances given his side fell behind twice.
Here, we look at three things we learned from a battling Welsh performance before a raucous crowd at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium, in which Chris Coleman’s men took a valuable point in arguably their most difficult away fixture:
Coleman susses out his best XI
Despite missing Aaron Ramsey again through injury, the Arsenal midfielder would likely come in as a straight swap for Leicester City midfielder Andy King. That said, with the Gunner missing both games, manager Chris Coleman started with the same starting XI that crushed Moldova in their opening qualifier in Cardiff, and clearly the former Fulham boss has his best side in mind and a qualification plan to go forward in their quest to reach Russia following their excellent Euro 2016 campaign.
Sam Vokes was the spearhead in attack, with national team talisman Gareth Bale alongside him supporting every time the ball came forward- the two of course combined for Wales’ second goal, Vokes with a flick-on from Bale’s long throw leading to the own goal- but more importantly the team as a whole as well as the attacking duo look settled into Coleman’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, with the width coming from full-backs Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor, and the attacking duo supported from deep by Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and in this case Andy King, with Aaron Ramsey yet to return to the fold. Attacking wise they are as sharp as ever, and a three-man compact central defence is also continuing to work wonders at the back. James Chester after a promising Euro 2016 looks to have staked his claim alongside skipper Ashley Williams and Ben Davies, with Jazz Richards and James Collins also options in reserve.
Potters on fire in Europe
Stoke City are second-bottom in the fledgling Premier League table, but those in the ranks of the Potteries club seem to be cutting the mustard in international colours, with two of them doing the business tonight.
None more so than Joe Allen, who has now netted three in three games for the first time in his career, after netting in back-to-back games for his club and now getting off the mark in this latest qualifying campaign with a superb half-volley for his country. His strike across bewildered Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer left him with no chance, and it was the least he deserved in another influential performance in a Wales shirt. He was forced off with injury in the second half, and the visitors seemed to lose their sparkle after that.
Besides Allen, his teammate in the Austrian fold Marko Arnautovic also put in a shining performance. He scored a wonderful header in the first-half after latching onto David Alaba’s long-ball and hauled the hosts back on terms a second-time when he was alert to a poor James Chester touch from a rare loose pass from Allen, and raced away to calmly dink the ball over advancing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. His club manager Mark Hughes, a Welshman, will have watched in dismay, and he can only hope his player who is gifted but so often inconsistent, can strut his stuff in the Premier League in club colours.
Austria’s home record tells
The Austrians were unbeaten in all competitions on home soil since 2014, and unbeaten at home in competitive qualifiers since 2012, and they seem to have hit somewhat of a golden generation with figures like Bayern Munich’s David Alaba and Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic particularly influential in their ranks.
Their impressive record in Vienna came under threat from Coleman’s Wales, but they showed character to hit back and arguably controlled the game after their first equaliser, Kevin Wimmer’s own goal coming as somewhat of a sucker punch, ironic given Austria manager Marcel Koller’s pre-match comments that the Welsh were “lucky” to have made it all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
It was a highly-charged atmosphere in the capital with a Viennese crowd baying for Welsh blood, but to qualify for major tournaments a team must be able to gain points from tricky places, and it is another step forward in Wales’ attempt to make further history.
Koller will have been left thanking his lucky stars that Arnautovic had one of his good days, and already European Qualifying Group D is looking an entertaining affair with four sides (Wales, Serbia, Austria and the Republic of Ireland) all tied on four points after two games each, with whipping boys Moldova and Georgia joint bottom with nothing to show from their first two games of the campaign.
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