x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Lahm expects Germany to face a tough Austria

Germany can take another significant step towards the 2012 European Championship finals tonight with a win against neighbouring Austria in Vienna.

Germany's Arne Friedrich, left, Thomas Muller, centre, and Holger Badstuber take part in training at the team's camp in Frankfurt ahead of tonight's match with Group A rivals Austria.
Germany's Arne Friedrich, left, Thomas Muller, centre, and Holger Badstuber take part in training at the team's camp in Frankfurt ahead of tonight's match with Group A rivals Austria.

Germany can take another significant step towards the 2012 European Championship finals tonight with a win against neighbouring Austria in Vienna.

Joachim Loew's men have won all five of their Group A encounters to establish a five-point lead over Belgium at the top of the pool.

A trip to Vienna is unlikely to pose too many problems for the Germans but Philipp Lahm, the captain, said his teammates will not underestimate their hosts.

"Games against Austria are always explosive as there is a special rivalry," the Bayern Munich full-back said yesterday. "There are many Austrians who play with us in the Bundesliga and have great quality."

Lahm knows the significance of a win, though. "We look forward to this important game," he said. "With a win, we can take a big step."

Germany will make a late decision on the availability of the Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, who has been struggling with a thigh injury.

Austria are fourth in the group on seven points, and Paul Scharner, the Austria midfielder, has brushed aside thoughts of qualification. Instead, he is focused on upsetting the World Cup semi-finalists.

"Currently, we don't even think about our chances of qualifying for the finals," he said. "All we live for are the two games against Germany."

Marc Janko, the Austria captain, added: "We have prepared very intensively for this difficult match.

"We are the rank outsiders and have nothing to lose, but we want to irritate Germany, and maybe that will be good enough for a draw or a success."

Belgium meet a Turkey side one place and one point worse off in Brussels.

The Belgian goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, knows a win would put his side in pole position to secure a qualification play-off spot.

He told the Sunderland Echo newspaper: "We've got quite a lot of talent in [Vincent] Kompany, [Thomas] Vermaelen and [Moussa] Dembele. There's quite a few playing in England.

"Hopefully, we can qualify again for a big tournament. We haven't done it for 10 years.

"There are young players, as well. We can be a strong team in the next couple of years.

"Germany are too far ahead of us, and they're the best team in the group, so we have to focus on second place.

"Turkey is such an important game now."

The final game in the pool sees Kazakhstan host Azerbaijan in Astana.

The hosts have lost all five of their games, and Azerbaijan have just three points.

Giorgio Chiellini, the Italy centre-back, has called for one last big effort before the summer as the Azzurri look to march closer to next summer's finals.

The challenge of playing internationals following an arduous club campaign is one which Chiellini knows calls for players to show discipline.

Estonia are the Group C opposition in Modena tonight, and the Juventus defender explained the danger.

"The greatest risk may be that we are at the end of a season," he said. "Many of us have played more than 50 games, so fatigue is a real danger. It is not easy to plug in after the season is over. However, we have an important goal which if we achieve it would allow us to pursue a path which we are following well, which is towards becoming the best."

Italy have 13 points from five games and are top of their table with a five-point cushion over closest rivals Slovenia and Serbia heading into their final international before the summer break.

Chiellini suggested that Italy's success has exceeded expectations, with the coach Cesare Prandelli improving the national team's fortunes. In recent friendlies they earned a draw away to Germany and a win at Ukraine.

Tonight's match has been overshadowed by a new investigation into alleged match-fixing and a betting ring in Italy.

Giuseppe Signori, the former Lazio and Italy striker, was among 16 people arrested on Wednesday. Others questioned included active players and executives in Serie B and C, as well as bookmakers. Chiellini said he felt a sense of "shock and disappointment" but said that the Italy players were focused on beating Estonia.

Elsewhere in the group, Slovenia plans to attack in their game against the Faroe Islands in windswept Toftir. Matjaz Kek's side are looking to follow up their 5-1 win against the same opposition last October with a convincing result.

"Scoring early would make our task easier," said Milivoje Novakovic, the Slovenia striker. "At the same time we must score as many goals as possible because goal difference can be a deciding factor."

Slovenia have played six matches so far, with two wins, two losses and two defeats. The Faroe Islands have one point from five games, gained from a draw against Northern Ireland.