The ÖFB team is under pressure before the all-important World Cup playoff duel against Wales. Because since the European Championships last year, the form curve has been pointing upwards. You clearly missed the direct World Cup qualification. Only thanks to the victory in the Nations League is the chance of participating in the World Cup in Qatar alive. Opponents in the semi-finals on Thursday 24 March are Wales. If they had won, they might have played against Ukraine themselves on March 29 in Vienna for a World Cup ticket. The play-off final will now take place in June at the earliest. The Ukrainian semi-finals in Scotland scheduled for next week have been postponed due to the war.
Even before one of his most important games as team boss, Franco Foda finds it difficult to focus fully on football: “In principle, you are very worried. You are actually stunned that there is a war in Europe, that many innocent people are having to die in Ukraine,” said the German on Tuesday when he was nominated for the semi-finals of the World Cup play-offs next week in Wales.
Focusing only on football in a situation like this is “very difficult,” said Foda. But he is convinced that sport – “or football in particular, which also connects people worldwide” – could make a small contribution to ending the war as quickly as possible. In this context, the German (55) mentioned statements of solidarity in the stadium.
But not only the war, but also the corona pandemic worries Foda: “You can see that Corona is not over yet,” emphasized the team boss on the second anniversary of the imposition of the first lockdown in Austria. “Unfortunately, the war has now come along. The world is going crazy.”
Since the final has been postponed to June, an opponent is now needed for March 29th. The central marketing of the European association UEFA prescribes a test match on March 29th. In all likelihood, the ÖFB team will face Scotland, Sweden or the Czech Republic in Vienna. The final opponent will only be known after the semi-finals in the World Cup play-off in Wales. Should the Austrians lose in Cardiff on March 24, they would meet Scotland five days later. In a lifting case there is no loud ÖFB-Indications from Tuesday afternoon, however, have not yet finally decided a scenario.
“We currently know that we will play against a European,” said Neuhold. In principle, there would also be the option of playing against an African team. “But we don’t deal with that.” In contrast to the opponent, an aid campaign has already been decided two weeks before the first international home game of the year: 50 percent of the ticketing proceeds from the game at the Ernst Happel Stadium will benefit Ukraine and the aid organizations working there.
should that ÖFBteam take the Wales hurdle a week from now on Thursday, there would probably be an even tighter schedule waiting in June. There are already four games for Austria in the highest division of the Nations League – on June 3rd in Croatia, on June 6th against Denmark, on June 10th against France and on June 13th in Denmark – on the program. “It can be assumed that the play-off final will be integrated into June,” said ÖFB Managing Director Bernd Neuhold. “But there is still no final solution.”
In the next two to three weeks, further talks with the world association FIFA as the World Cup organizer and UEFA are to be expected. In the World Cup draw on April 1 in Doha, the Austrians would be drawn as a possible participant if they won in Wales – without knowing whether they will actually be represented in Qatar in late autumn and when exactly the decision will be made.