Austrians not so boring after all

STEVEN SANDOR -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Look at the list of World Cup and U-20 World Cup winners, and the list is small. Championships are limited to an elite few nations.

That being said, there is rarely a World Cup or major international tourney in which there isn't one Cinderella story, a previously unheralded team that makes it to the semis or even the final.

Of course, everyone on the Danforth still remembers a tactically solid Greek team that shocked the soccer world by winning Euro 2004. And the World Cup has seen some spectacular dark horses; Bulgaria got to the semis at USA '94; Croatia actually led eventual champions France in the semi-final of the '98 World Cup before collapsing; Turkey earned a third-place finish at the 2002 World Cup, beating another Cinderella, the host South Koreans, in the consolation final.

This U-20 World has an underdog story of its own. Austria, considered by most the weakest European side going into this tourney -- after all, it did lose 5-0 to Spain in qualifiers to get to Canada -- faces the Czechs tonight in the semi-final.

Austria may be famous for many things, from schnitzel to Mozart, Freud to Falco, but it hasn't been a footballing power since its famous Wunderteam of the 1930s.

But it may be too early to slap a 'Wunderteam" title on this squad just yet. The Austrians, which scored just four goals in their first four games of the tournament, earned a deserved reputation as tactics-first side (football doublespeak for "boring").

But Austria came out of its shell in the quarterfinals at BMO Field. After trailing 1-0 to the favoured Americans, the Austrians dominated the final 60 minutes of regulation and all 30 minutes of extra time. And, had it not been for two extraordinary face saves by American keeper Chris Seitz, that game would never have needed to go past regulation.

Austria found that it didn't need to be boring to win. Winger Martin Harnik, who belongs to German powerhouse Werder Bremen, dominated a right-wing attack that befuddled the Americans and was easily the game's best player. Look for that right side to be the key to Austria's attack again tonight.

"We proved that an Austrian national team cam come with playing football, skilful football, very far," said Austrian coach Paul Gludovatz, who bristles whenever someone suggests his team is, well, boring. "We don't only play football with relying on defence ... I think also that when our opponents play better football our football is also better."

Gludovatz said his team's success is a "fairy tale" for Austria.

Judging by the Czechs' negative tactics in their win over Spain -- this U-20 team is a far cry from the artistry of senior stars Pavel Nedved or Tomas Rosicky -- the suddenly artful Austrians just may be the ones that deserve support when they take the field in Edmonton tonight.

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24 hours sports editor Steven Sandor has written about the Beautiful Game for numerous publications around the globe. The Red Card will appear every Wednesday in 24 hours.


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