Wales led twice but were pegged back twice by Marcel Koller’s Austria side in Vienna, as Chris Coleman’s team take a creditable point away from their first away trip of their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign and arguably their toughest away game of the group against the Number Two seeds. It is a result that will probably satisfy both managers, but for those who didn’t watch the match, how did the two teams actually perform?
Chris Coleman’s Wales were forced to deal with spells of heavy pressure from the hosts, as the Austrians set about their business with a point to prove following a disappointing Euro 2016 showing in a high octane atmosphere before a raucous Viennese crowd in the Ernst Happel Stadium. On paper, it was their toughest game in the group against an Austrian outfit that had won their last ten qualifying matches and were unbeaten on home soil in competitive fixtures since 2012.
It was the visitors however who would seize the initiative in Vienna however. Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen, who had enjoyed a fine European Championships in Wales’ run to the semi-finals and has scored in back-to-back league games for his club, was the man on the scoresheet once more, latching onto Chris Gunter’s headed pass to strike the ball left-footed on the half volley across goal and past goalkeeper Robert Almer to send the travelling Welsh support into raptures.
The lead didn’t last long though. Five minutes after Allen’s opener, the hosts were level, and it was another Stoke City man who hit the net in the shape of Marko Arnautovic, whose run evaded Chris Gunter after a lofted pass from Bayern Munich man David Alaba, before he coolly headed the ball beyond the stranded Wayne Hennessey.
From that point, it was Austria who took charge of the game and dictated possession. But the Welsh would find themselves back in the ascendancy in fortuitous fashion right before half-time. It was fitting that Austrian coach Marcel Koller had declared that Wales were “lucky” in their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, and his jibe came back to bite when after Sam Vokes’ flick-on from a a long-throw, James Chester’s header was parried by Robert Almer only for the ball to bounce off the unfortunate Kevin Wimmer and into the net to restore Wales’ lead.
Again however the visitors would squander the lead, and it only took three minutes after the break for the hosts ro restore parity. In a rare moment of madness, Wales goalscorer on the night Joe Allen horribly misplaced a pass, and a miscued first touch by James Chester allowed Marko Arnautovic to nip in and race clear before casually lifting the ball over Hennessey and hauling the hosts back on terms.
The equaliser was the very least Austria’s performance merited on the night, and for Wales, despite throwing away the lead twice, it is a creditable point away from home against arguably their closest rivals in the group, and with daunting away trips to Belgrade and Dublin to come, a point in Vienna will be encouraging and a vital step for Wales in this campaign.
The visitors did unfortunately lose Joe Allen to injury, who will be a doubt for Wales’ next qualifier against Georgia in Cardiff, whilst Austria gear themselves up for a trip to Serbia next.
The man of the match on the night should rightfully go to Stoke City man Marko Arnautovic. One of Austria’s talismans, he is immensely talented but so often inconsistent and fortunately for the hosts, he had one of his better games, finishing off his two goals with aplomb for his brace, and was a thorn in the side of the Welsh defence throughout.
As far as the Welsh were concerned, Wayne Hennessey probably pips it for the plaudits, with his two saves near the end of the first half proving vital before Wales reclaimed the lead. Slack defending twice let him down however as the Austrians got the point they deserved, whilst Wales, under the cosh somewhat, still came away with something.
The result sees Wales top the group on goal difference, level with Austria on four points. Serbia and the Republic of Ireland are also level with the two nations on points, and Group D is already shaping up to be a fascinating affair in the race to reach Russia.
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