Humbled by Rangers, Franco Foda returns to Glasgow with highly dangerous Austria team

Towards the end of a fine playing career, a then 34-year-old Franco Foda probably realised retirement was beckoning when he was part of a Sturm Graz defence who were torn apart in a 5-0 Champions League defeat against Rangers at Ibrox.

German coach Franco Foda has won 19 of his 29 matches in charge of Austria since taking the job in January 2018. (Photo by JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images)
German coach Franco Foda has won 19 of his 29 matches in charge of Austria since taking the job in January 2018. (Photo by JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images)

More than 20 years later, the German returns to Glasgow with his reputation as a coach very much in the ascendancy at the helm of an Austrian squad who will pose the stiffest of opening night tests for Scotland as the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign begins at Hampden.

Since taking charge of Austria in the aftermath of their failed bid to reach the 2018 finals, Foda has had a transformational effect.

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He boasts an impressive 19 wins and just seven defeats from his 29 matches in charge so far which have seen Austria qualify for the Euro 2020 finals and win their most recent UEFA Nations League group.

Adrian Grbic (number 16) celebrates a goal for Austria against Northern Ireland in a UEFA Nations League match in Vienna last November. (Photo by GEORG HOCHMUTH/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

They are one of international football’s form teams, winning 12 and losing only two of their last 16 games. While they are the second seeds in Group F, Austria may represent the greatest challenge Steve Clarke and his players will face on the road to Qatar.

Foda made almost 500 top flight appearances in his playing career, most of it in his homeland with Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen and VfB Stuttgart.

After a brief spell with Basel in Switzerland, he made his way to Austria for the first time and a lengthy association with Sturm Graz. Foda hung up his boots at the end of the 2000-01 season which included that 5-0 drubbing at Ibrox, albeit avenged with a 2-0 win in Graz which helped his side progress through the Champions League group stage at the expense of Dick Advocaat’s Rangers.

He immediately moved onto the coaching staff and during the first of three spells in charge of Sturm Graz he returned to Scotland in October 2002 as they lost 4-3 to Livingston in the second leg of a UEFA Cup tie but went through 8-6 on aggregate.

Foda will feel bullish about his prospects of finally emerging victorious on Scottish soil when his highly-talented side take the field at Hampden on Thursday night.

Currently 23rd in the FIFA world rankings, 25 places above Scotland, the Austrians boast top level experience and quality throughout their ranks, most of it currently operating in the German Bundesliga.

Aleksandar Dragovic is an imposing presence at the heart of defence, while ahead of the 86-times capped Bayer Leverkusen player, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Stefan Ilsanker provides solidity in midfield. There is also no shortage of attacking flair in that department from the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba and RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer.

Most intrigue in the Austrian media surrounds who Foda will decide to play up front in the absence of former West Ham United striker Marko Arnautovic who is now playing in China and unable to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.

Adrian Grbic, who plays in France for Lorient, has scored in each of Austria’s last three games after coming on as an impact substitute and could be handed only his second starting appearance.

But Sasa Kalajdzic, currently the top scorer in the Bundesliga this season with 13 goals for VfB Stuttgart, is fancied by many to lead the line. Scotland have been warned.

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