PARIS (AP) — The pressure of carrying Austria at the European Championship might be taking its toll on David Alaba.
The Bayern Munich defender arrived in France as Austria’s undisputed star player but has struggled to make an impact in its first two games.
In Austria’s first Group F game against Hungary, he was deployed as a holding midfielder. In the subsequent match against Portugal, he played as an attacking playmaker but was substituted in the 65th minute.
Austria coach Marcel Koller has offered some suggestions to explain the 23-year-old Alaba’s dip in form, including tiredness after a long season at club level and simply trying too hard to be the team’s inspiration.
“It’s about experience,” Koller said Tuesday via a translator, a day ahead of Austria’s must-win game against Iceland. “He has shown so many games on a top level at the Champion League — it’s like that here at the Euros, and you can’t repeat this each game and each day at this level.
“I think maybe there are players who are a little more experienced who can compensate a little bit. They are aware of their strengths and show them on the pitch, but they won’t fight for each ball, and for each sprint … so this tournament will be a great experience for him.”
A regular starter for Bayern at left back and sometimes in central defense, Alaba plays in midfield for his country so he can be more involved in the action. He struck a shot against the post after just 28 seconds in the 2-0 loss to Hungary but was ineffective after that, as he was in his more attacking role against Portugal when he hardly saw the ball.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s late penalty miss and post-match selfie with a fan made all the headlines, perhaps sparing Alaba from more scrutiny.
“Because he plays for Bayern Munich and he has won the Champions League, all the focus is on him,” Austria captain Christian Fuchs said. “But I don’t think that’s fair to him because he’s simply part of a team here. We, as Austrians, see the team as our star, not any particular player.”
Yet, for Austria to advance to the knockout stage, the team likely will need Alaba at his best.
“He is a very flexible player, he has outstanding qualities as a footballer, both technically and with his reading of the game,” Koller said. “He can play in various positions. Of course, he will play tomorrow. Which position? Let’s see.”
To have a chance of making the round of 16, Austria will have to beat Iceland at Stade de France. Its fortunes will also depend on the result of the other match in Group F between Hungary and Portugal. Austria is last in Group F on one point. Portugal and Iceland have two, and Hungary has four.
Aleksandar Dragovic could return in defense after missing the Portugal game while he served a suspension for getting sent off against Hungary.
Midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic is making progress after injuring his ankle against the Hungarians. He trained away from the main group under overcast skies on Tuesday, as Austria took part in its last practice session at France’s national stadium before the game.
“Junozovic is surprisingly fit,” Koller said, adding that Austria “won’t risk to put him on the pitch.”
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