Michael O’Neill brings his Northern Ireland side to Vienna knowing at least a point is essential after a 2-1 home defeat in their Nations League opener with Bosnia-Herzegovina. The good news for the Green and White Army is that their opponents find themselves in similar straits, having left Zenica without any points under their belt in their last outing. To some extent, both sides will have to have a go on the banks of the Danube this evening.
It’s fair to say both sides have known better days, although they’ve also both known much worse than being in League B, the second tier of a four-tier European competition. Both are hoping for the direct qualification to Euro 2020 that this tournament could bring, having reached France in 2016 but missed out on this summer’s World Cup. Dare O’Neill continue to blood the youngsters who have started to make their mark on his squad?
Austria vs Northern Ireland Prediction: Austria 1-2 Northern Ireland
This is a game that could go either way, with both sides having the strengths and weaknesses that come with being a middle-tier European national side. O’Neill has got his side to believe that they can go anywhere and get a result, and they were close to taking out Switzerland in the World Cup playoffs. On this trip to Central Europe, we believe they can turn over the Swiss side’s less-respected neighbours – although they’re certainly not going to have it all their own way in front of a noisy Viennese crowd. We can look forward to a very even battle here.
Our recommended tip: Over 2.5 Goals
Older Northern Ireland fans can remember a time in the early 00s when the national side went nearly 1300 minutes without scoring a goal, and the O’Neill era has been pretty much a feast after decades of famine when it comes to attacking endeavour. His is a side that will come to Vienna and have a go.
In part, it’s self-preservation. When your defensive options are left threadbare by the absence of Gareth McAuley, you know that attack is the best form of defence. Austria will view this match in much the same way – they’ll struggle to bottle Northern Ireland up for 90 minutes, so we should see an end-to-end game.
The sides last met in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, a tournament neither side was ever in any danger of reaching. The Viennese game – played in this very stadium exactly 13 years ago – was most memorable for the home side’s defensive midfielder Rene Aufhauser scoring at the end of each half to deliver Austria the three points, leaving them a distant third in the group behind neighbours Germany and Poland.
In Belfast, 364 days prior, the sides had played out a 3-3 draw which saw the lead change hands twice before a late equaliser from Stuart Elliott ensured the points were shared.
Top 3 Nations League Bookies
|New Customer |
|1||100 / 100||£30 Freebet||Betway review|
T&Cs apply, 18+
|2||99 / 100||Bet £25 and get a matched bonus of £25||Novibet review|
T&Cs apply, 18+
|3||98 / 100||Fantastic £50 welcome bonus||Bethard review|
T&Cs apply, 18+
Players to watch: Marko Arnautovic & Jamal Lewis
Arnautovic is, not to put too fine a point on it, the player who makes things tick in both his club and national sides. Criticised for much of his career as the kind of player who turns it on when he feels like it, the former Stoke attacker has decided that he always feels like it, and he will present the most severe threat to Northern Ireland tonight. He could win this game all by himself if given the chance, although Bayern wing-back David Alaba will surely provide a few touches of class himself.
Lewis qualifies for Northern Irish recognition through his mother, and the Luton-born left-back is a player at the beginning of what could be a thrilling international career. His pace has been one of the few things stopping Norwich City from being completely moribund the last couple of seasons, and it provides Northern Ireland with an outlet that has been conspicuously absent for longer than he’s been alive. With Lewis creating a genuine overlapping threat on the left, the entire side suddenly looks more dangerous.