Mood changers

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup has given Austria a sense of hope.

It's been 10 years since the country has taken part in a world championship at the youth level, having played in the Under-17 tournament in 1997.

Their only previous experience at the Under-20 event came in 1983. And the senior team has not qualified for a World Cup since 1998.

"The mood in Austria isn't the best at the moment because we are 83rd in the FIFA rankings," said Austrian head coach Paul Gludovatz through an interpreter.

"So a good World Cup with the Under-20 team could help to raise the spirit in Austria regarding football.

"It would be a good sign for our senior team.

"It could also show the Austrian people that Austrian football is not as far away from the highest level than they think it is."

WUNDER OF THE '30S

There was a time when Austria was regarded as a soccer power. The Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930's is considered to be among the best of all time.

Led by Matthias Sindelar - voted the best Austrian player of the 20th century - Austria made it to the semifinal of the 1934 World Cup and the final of the 1936 Olympics.

Following the Second World War, Austria finished third at the 1954 World Cup.

Yet in recent years the national teams have struggled at all levels.

Therefore qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup represents a soccer resurgence for many in Austria.

"This team is the future of our senior national team," Gludovatz said.

"They won't be on the team next year at the European Championships, but I think one or two of these players can be on the team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa."

Qualifying for this tournament is the first step towards the road to the 2010 World Cup.

Austria booked their trip to Canada with an impressive run at the Under-19 European Championships last summer in Poland.

With four spots available for European teams at the Under-20 World Cup, all Austria needed to do was make it to the semifinals of the Under-19 event.

They accomplished that with an impressive 4-1 win over Belgium in their final group match. However, that's as far as Austria got, losing 5-0 to eventual champions Spain in the semifinal.

"This is a big tournament for Austrian football," Gludovatz said.

"It's been 24 years since we've played in this tournament and the last time we were in it, we weren't very successful.

"We are happy that we were able to qualify. But we can't be satisfied with it. You always want to take the next step. We want to leave our mark on this tournament.

"We want to play very hard and play tough matches. Hopefully we can get a little luck along the way."

At the 1983 tournament in Mexico, Austria failed to score a goal and was bounced in the first round. They lost 4-0 to Czechoslovakia, 3-0 to Argentina and 3-0 to China.

This time around they are drawn in a group with Canada, Chile and Congo.

CHILE IN TORONTO

Austria will play its first two games in Edmonton (Congo and Canada) at Commonwealth Stadium before flying to Toronto to face Chile in their final group match.

Austria arrived in Edmonton earlier this week.

"We are well prepared," Gludovatz said.

"We'll have to change our philosophy in each game because we are playing against three very different teams.

"The team from Africa is very skilled and they're very strong in the air. Canada has more of a British style, because a lot of their players play in England.

"And Chile is a very good team; they are just as good as Brazil and Argentina."


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