Wales-Austria: A brief guide to every previous clash on Welsh soil
With heartfelt apologies to Podcast Pêl-droed’s legions of Ukrainian fans, if we are to finally get to a World Cup again after a 64 (SIXTY FOUR!) year gap, it’s perhaps fitting that we’ll have played Belgium, Austria and very possibly Scotland (again Ukraine, I can only say bибач) to get there.
Those are the three nations that back in 2016 I described as the ones with whom Wales have the most history with. We might have played England 103 times, but there is no real rivalry there, not anymore anyway. Us Wales fans are internationalists, looking out to the whole world in expressing our Welshness through the deeds of our national football team and its attendant fan culture. Trying to simply impress the landlords in the big house next door is so small time. Almost pathetic in fact.
Because this World Cup play-off versus Austria is fucking massive I’ve decided to start the build up with several months to go. Ahead of our game in Vienna in 2016, I looked back on five of the most memorable occasions when Wales and Austria faced off. This piece looks at every time we have faced them at home; twice at Wrexham’s Racecourse, and once each at The Millennium Stadium, Liberty Stadium and Cardiff City Stadium.
Auf gehts! | Bant â ni!
Wales 1 Austria 2, 25 November 1955
So screamed The Western Mail following a game which became known as ‘the Battle of Wrexham’. ‘The match degenerated into a game of rugby’ complained Austrian trainer Josef Moltzer. You’d think with that being the case Wales might have done better – there’s not a lot of rugby played in Austria. But we were up against excellent opponents; a team who’d finished third at the previous year’s World Cup and one obviously able to withstand the roughhouse Welsh tactics by giving as good as they got.
The first ever meeting between the two teams in Vienna a year previously had set the scene. That brutal encounter had finished 2-0 to the Austrians, so it seems, for whatever reason, to be a fixture that’s had a bit of needle from the get go. Theodor Wagner and Mel Charles were both carried off in the return encounter and according to teammates, John Charles was so set on retribution for the treatment dished out to his brother that the player who (famously) was never even booked, was actually quite lucky not to be sent off.
The most striking thing about watching the extraordinary Pathe footage of the game are the scenes of the Welsh strikers charging Austrian goalkeeper Bruno Engelmeier, even with the ball safely gathered in his hands. It seems so alien, almost like watching another sport. ‘It’s time those international rules about charging goalkeepers were straightened out’ exclaims the Pathe commentary, and it’s hard to disagree.
Wales 1 Austria 0, 19 November 1975
The fourth match between the two countries produced a result which meant the Wales senior team topped a qualifying group for the first, and 46 years later, still only time. It was our first victory over next year’s play-off opponents and deserves to be more revered among Welsh fans and media than it is.
Austria went on to the World Cup two and a half years later where they produced probably the most famous victory in their history with a 3-2 triumph over neighbours and defending champions West Germany. The likes of midfielder Herbert Prohaska (voted Austria’s player of the century in 2004) and celebrated striker Hans Krankl played in what turned out to be another brutal Wrexham encounter, a game where Welsh spirit helped overcome their more technically accomplished opponents. ‘Wales are the greatest fighters I have ever seen or played against’ said Austrian coach Branko Elsner, and watching the footage, the footballing ability of Brian Flynn and (especially) Leighton James stands out among the battling qualities displayed by their teammates. Terry Yorath’s leadership is also noticeable – he looks a proper captain, even if the timing of his tackles leaves a bit to be desired.
The only goal of the game was scored by local hero Arfon Griffiths, the then 34 year old Wrexham legend, who won 16 of his 17 caps in his fourth decade, and, remarkably for a 3rd division footballer, went on to win the BBC Wales Sports personality of the year for 1975.
Wales 0 Austria 2, 26 March 2005
‘They’re not a good side…you’ve probably seen two poor sides trying to contest this group, neither of whom have got a glimmer of hope of qualifying’ was Craig Bellamy’s memorable post-match response following a drab 2-0 home loss at one third full Millennium Stadium in a desperately poor World Cup qualifier in March 2009.
That was against Finland but Bellamy could have said exactly the same after this match four years earlier, John Toshack’s second game in his second spell in charge.
Perhaps realising just how average their opponents were (this was three years from Austria co-hosting a European Championship that many of their own fans petitioned to be pulled out of, so embarrassing was the team to the Austrian public at the time) Wales set about the away tie in Vienna a few days later with much more purpose. Giggs and Bellamy in particular gave the Austrian defenders a torrid time, but were unable to finish any of the chances they had carved out for themselves, the game also ending in a loss when goalkeeper Danny Coyne let a tame shot through his legs in the 87th minute.
(Ward vs the Czechs isn’t the first gog keeper named Danny to make an utterly horrendous error in central Europe!)
That match summed up John Toshack’s lack of luck as manager of his country. Despite laying some considerable foundations for his successors, he was unable to produce a significant victory against noteworthy opponents over the course of his time in charge.
Wales 2 Austria 1, 6 February 2013
A friendly on a cold night at Swansea’s Liberty stadium, with Gareth Bale – as so often – making the difference, taking the first goal beautifully following a superb pass from Joe Allen. At the start of the second half Wales’ talisman turned provider with a fantastic cross for Sam Vokes to power home a header.
Following Bale’s substitution on the hour mark, we clung on a little, Marc Janko’s header from a quality Arnautovic centre giving the visitors encouragement. But despite David Alaba showing glimpses of his undoubted class in the Austrian midfield, it was a deserved – if hard earned – win.
Austria’s Swiss manager Marcel Koller was full of praise for Wales when slightly patronising German media comments about our position inside the top ten of the FIFA world rankings were made to him ahead of Euro 2016:
Which is why I knew, ahead of the meeting in Vienna in October 2016, that Koller was only attempting mind games when he suggested Wales were ‘lucky’ to reach the semi-finals.
Wales 1 Austria 0, 2 September 2017
That particular game in the Austrian capital ended 2-2; disappointing considering we took the lead twice, the opener an absolute peach of a half-volley from Joe Allen. It summed up the first half of that campaign to a tee; too many draws, too many lost leads, not enough intensity in the second halves of games…
This led to a make-or-break situation for Wales, with four wins needed from the final four games to stand any chance of qualifying. To add to the drama, it was also do or die time for Austria.
I don’t like having a pop at the cast iron legend that is Christopher ‘Cookie’ Coleman but I have to say the manager got it completely wrong when picking a central midfield that consisted of Aaron Ramsey and David Edwards. When we question on the podcast whether Ramsey is capable of playing as a part of a central midfield two (especially against decent opposition) this match could be used as Exhibit A in the case against. The almost inevitable result was that we were completely overrun in the first half, David Alaba was given the freedom of Cardiff and it was only a piece of stupendously good luck for us that Marco Arnautovic had obviously forgotten the shooting boots that had served him so well in Vienna eleven months previously. Andy King came on at half time for wing back Jazz Richards and we went 4-3-3, Coleman imploring his players to go ‘balls out’ for the win. Despite gaining a measure of control and curbing Alaba’s influence, there still didn’t seem to be any sort of Welsh spark in attack, 0-0 looking by far the most likely result with around twenty minutes left on the clock…
Enter a 17 year old with only a handful of minutes under his belt for Liverpool.
The crowd’s wonderful in game rendition of the anthem, the touches to set himself, the shot, wow, that shot…all so surreal as Ben Woodburn etched himself into Welsh football folklore just four minutes into his debut.
Four years on and Woodburn can’t even make the squad at this particular point, which is both unexpected (following the remarkable impression he made in his first two caps) and a little sad. That said, he’s just turned 22, and one only has to look at the fantastic international career that Kieffer Moore is having in his late twenties (debut age 27) to note that Woodburn still has time on his side.
He’s unlikely to be involved in March though, so it’s imperative that Robert Page gets the tactics right from the start. As much as the play off draw was kind to us, it should be noted that exactly the same thing is being said in Austria.
It’s gonna be emotional. I can’t wait for March.