x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

What's it like... to coach your country in a World Cup

Josef Hickersberger: Taking Austria to the 1990 World Cup was the greatest achievement of my career.

Taking Austria to the 1990 World Cup (in Italy) was the greatest achievement of my career. When I was appointed as the youngest coach in Austria, there were lots of scepticism and criticism, because I had not coached a first team before. It was a surprise for me too when Beppo Mauhart, president of the Austria Football Association, asked me if I was interested in coaching the national team. I told him I would be delighted. He said, "please, take your time and think over it and I will call you back in three days, because it won't be easy". I had already made up my mind and I must thank him for opening the door for me as coach.

I would not only have missed a great opportunity but would not have been the coach I am now. It was really special for me to lead the team on the greatest stage in the game. And the best moment was to win the last game, beating the German Democratic Republic 3-0. The Germans were celebrating the fall of the Berlin wall at the time and they did not concentrate on their game. It was a great win because nobody in Austria thought we would even qualify for the World Cup finals.

Toni Polster was the most hated player in Austria and I took him in my team. And before the game, I received a call that I will be killed if I played him. It was serious threat. I was pretty upset. For me, he was the best striker in the country and I wanted him to play. I did not want to listen to anyone because it was my responsibility to play the best team. Toni scored all three goals against Germany and silenced everyone.

And returning for the second time as the national coach for the 2008 European Championship as one of the host nations was not difficult. I was 60 and I could handle everything better than I had nearly 18 years later. It was a lot different when I when I returned for the 2008 European Championship. And as the coach of the host nation, I was like an ambassador, and I was honoured to do that for my country.

When I look back, I feel a little bit proud of my achievements as an Austrian coach. It is easy to win a World Cup when you are born in a more established football nation but when you are born in Austria, the opportunities are far and few. Josef Hickersberger, who played for Austria at the 1978 World Cup and coached them in the 1990 finals, is the manager of Al Wahda who are currently second in the Pro league.