x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Historic neighbourly bragging rights on the line for Austria in World Cup 2014 qualifier

Emotional win over Germany in 1978 sticks out for Austrians but series has been one-sided since the Berlin Wall came down, writes Ian Hawkey.

A win tonight for David Alaba, right, and his Austria teammates will close the gap on group leaders Germany.  Samuel Kubani / AFP
A win tonight for David Alaba, right, and his Austria teammates will close the gap on group leaders Germany. Samuel Kubani / AFP

Mention the name Edi Finger to an Austrian under age 50, and chances are they will assume you are referring to the junior version, a well-known local sportscaster.

Ask an Austrian footballer follower of an older generation, and they will probably think first of the original the late father of the current commentator, who held the same name and profession.

Old or young, many Austrians can still quote, at length, his most famous lines.

He uttered them on the day Austria defeated West Germany at the finals of a World Cup, more than 25 years ago now, in Cordoba, Argentina.

The scenario: West Germany's chance of finishing among the medals hung on their achieving a positive result; Austria were out of contention, the fixture merely a matter of neighbourly bragging rights.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scored first for the Germans, then West Germany's Berti Vogts scored an own goal.

Austria went ahead through their iconic centre-forward of the era, Hans Krankl, but only briefly, with the Germans coming back for 2-2.

All eventful enough for Finger to produce an animated narrative, but not for him to become overly excited or lose his self-control.

In the 88th minute, though, Finger flipped and became a decidedly unsteady Edi, crossing the boundaries of commentary conventions, parading his bias and sheer delight.

"Here comes Krankl, into the penalty area," he said, in Austrian-accented German, "he shoots. Goal! Goal! Goal!" With each utterance of "goal," the volume increased.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Finger said, apparently turning solemn, when he really was anything but. "We're hugging each other here.

"There's me, my colleague Rippel, and the sound engineer, Posch. We're kissing each other. I wish you could see us. I think we've beaten them now."

Since then, whenever Austria and Germany meet, Finger's words, and Krankl's winning goal, get replayed ahead of the match.

Fans reach to the back of their wardrobes for the T-shirts with "Cordoba 1978" printed on them. For a few hours before kick-off, they dream of a repeat against a team that, on paper, are stronger, and from a country that is far larger and casts a considerable shadow over their region.

For the generation of Edi Finger's son, invitations for commentators to gush as lyrically as his father have not been plentiful.

Rather, in the 23 years since the Berlin Wall fell and West Germany became part of Germany, some severe punishment has been meted out.

There was a 6-2 German victory in Gelsenkirchen during qualifying for Euro 2012, one of three four-goal margins by which the team in white have routed the team in red over the last 20 years.

Yet last September in Vienna, Germany won by a 2-1 margin, and as Group C of Uefa's World Cup qualifying enters its denouement, Austria nurse genuine hopes of reaching the finals. They trail Germany, who they meet in Munich tonight, by five points. But they are holding onto the second spot ahead of Sweden, a team Austria beat at home, and over Ireland, where, thanks to a goal from David Alaba, they grabbed a last-gasp 2-2 draw in March.

Finishing in second place would mean, at the least, a November play-off for a place in Brazil. The trouble for Austria is that they sit there precariously.

Both the Swedes and the Irish are, like Austria, on 11 points.

So the run-in should be gripping, with all three yet to play a Germany who, though confident of their progress, have some concerns about recent defensive lapses. In their last four matches – including one very experimental friendly, a 4-3 loss to the United States – Joachim Low's men have conceded 10 goals.

There was also Germany's bizarre 4-4 draw with Sweden 11 months ago.

Austria may not have a Krankl figure up front these days, but they sense they may be able to sniff out one or two chances on Friday.

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