With the Group Stages of both the Champions League and Europa League coming to a close, I thought it would be time to evaluate the three Austrian clubs and how they have been doing abroad.
SK Sturm Graz
The League champions started off in the Champions League at the 2nd Round Qualifiers and easily dispatched of Hungarian club Fehrevar, winning 4-3 on aggregate. Moving on they then met Georgian Champions Zestafoni, winning 2-1 on a lone away goal. These scores don’t sound too impressive, but at this point they were in the playoff round, just two matches from the promised land of the Group Stages and the massive revenue that comes with it. The final roadblock would be BATE Borisov of Belarus, league champions since 2006. This appeared to be going in favor of Graz, as they drew the first round in Belarus 1-1, giving the Austrians a vital away goal. However, BATE got 2 goals on the return leg and advanced 3-1.
It wasn’t all bad for Graz though, as reaching the playoff round meant they qualified for Europa League group stage and they were placed in Group L with Anderlecht of Belgium, Russia’s Lokomotiv Moscow, and Greek Cup winners AEK Athens. Through the first five games Graz has only collected 3 points, a win at Athens, while being swept by Lokomotiv and Anderlecht. The later two’s offensive prowess has really troubled Graz who have a -7 goal differential to this point. Unable to advance to the next round, the best they can hope for is to give their fans a victory at home in the last match against the Greeks on the 14th. Their successes in the Champions League qualifying rounds however will be their major contribution for the nation, but more on that later.
The Austrian Cup winners joined the Europa League at the 3rd Qualifying round, matching up against Brondby of Denmark and after winning 2-0 at home it came down to a shoot out in the second leg. The Danes took a commanding 4-0 lead after 55 minutes, when Reid finally came to life. A goal in the 71st meant that one more could do the trick, and it finally came in the 88th minute of the match from defender Anel Hadzic. Reaching the playoff rounds they came up against European Champions of 1977/78 and 1987/1988 PSV Eindhoven. In the first leg, Reid appeared undaunted by their opponents, and the match in Austria ended 0-0 with everything to play for in Holland. The Dutch, however, were simply to strong, taking a 0-0 halftime score of the second leg and scorched the net five times in the last 45 to punch their ticket to the group stage.
FK Austria Vienna
The Viennese entered Europe in the 2nd qualifying round for the Europa League and were given a matchup with the Montenegrin Cup Winners Rudar. FK Austria breezed through this matchup 5-0 on aggregate and moved on to face Olympia Ljubljana of Slovenia. They advanced 4-3 on aggregate, needing a hat trick from Nacer Barazite to ensure progression. In the playoff round they drew Gaz Metan Medias of Romania The Austrians got a 3-1 win at home and were able to stifle Gaz in Romania enough to progress by an aggregate score of 3-2.
This would be the 2nd time in 3 years they have reached the group stages, hoping to fare better than the meager 2 points they collected in the 2009-2010 episode. Austria were placed in a group with Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv, AZ of the Netherlands, and the Swedish league champions Malmo. Through their first five games, Austria Vienna have 5 points, winning at Malmo, and collecting draws in both matches against AZ. Their last match comes at home to Malmo on December 15. They have a chance to progress, but they must collect all 3 points. They will also need Metalist, who have already won the group to win in Alkmaar, as having the same number of points with Dutch will not see them progress due to their goal differential being much worse (AZ +3; Austria Vienna -3). I see the Violets winning their match, but doubt that the Ukrainians will put in a full effort on the road, allowing AZ to progress.
Red Bull Salzburg
Red Bull Salzburg entered the Europa League in the 2nd qualifying round to Latvian side Liepajas Metalurgs and advanced by a 4-1 aggregate score, with all of the goals coming in Latvia. They then had to travel to Slovakia and won 4-0 over league runner’s up Senica. While they had not faced much challenge to that point, the playoff round against Omonia Nicosia of Cyprus would prove difficult. Alan scored a vital early away goal before Omonia ran out 2-1 winners in Cyprus. But the return leg saw Salzburg move on in a 1-0 victory that saw both sides end with 10 men.
Salzburg’s group would also provide no slouches, as they were drawn with the Basques of Athletic Bilbao, nouveau riche French club Paris Saint Germain, and Slovakian double winners Slovan Bratislava. Through five matches, Salzburg has held their own, a record of 2 wins, 1 draw, and 2 losses good for 2n in the group. They are currently even on points with PSG, but their goal differential is 3 better and their head to head matches give them an advantage as well (3-3 in those matches, but Salzburg again has a vital away goal). The Austrians also has the schedule in their favor. While PSG hosts group winners Bilbao, Salzburg will travel little further than they would to face an East Austrian club to face Bratislava, who languish at the bottom of the group with one point. The odds are in Salzburg’s favor and I see both Red Bull and PSG winning their last match, but the goal differential seeing the Austrians through.
Now while most of the Austrian clubs are nearing the end of their European adventure, the benefits will continue to help the nation’s football standing. The UEFA coefficient ranking the leagues takes into account each clubs success in these competitions, and these clubs successes have the Austrian Bundesliga ranked 11th of all leagues based on their teams wins, draws and losses. This puts our league ahead of Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, Denmark, and Sweden, who all have 4 or 5 teams in these competitions.1
What this also means is that the League has moved up to 14th place in UEFA’s rankings of the leagues.2 And while some may say “Wow you guys might one day be on par with Greece!” I want to point out that we were rated 19th just last year, one spot above Cyprus. This move would open more opportunities for clubs in European competitions which can hopefully, continue the good work these four clubs have put in and raise the status of Austrian Football throughout Europe and the World.
#1 UEFA European Cup Football http://kassiesa.home.xs4all.nl/bert/uefa/
#2 UEFA Country Coefficients http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/uefarankings/country/index.html