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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Austria 3 Serbia 2: Marko Arnautovic masterminds Austrian comeback to blow Ireland’s World Cup Group D wide open

MARKO ARNAUTOVIC masterminded an Austrian comeback last night to blow Ireland’s World Cup Group D wide open.

Unbeaten Serbia had led early on in Vienna through Luka Milivojevic before falling behind with 14 minutes left.

Nemanja Matic – playing in front his Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho – thought he’d pinched a point by making it 2-2 seven minutes later.

However, there would be one last twist in the final minute as a right-wing cross by substitute Louis Schaub’s curled straight into the far corner beyond Vladamir Stojković.

Arnautovic was credited the goal by the stadium announcer but he failed to connect with the volley, though it clearly distracted the Serbian goalkeeper.

In the build-up, Austria’s players had vented their anger at the decision to relieve Marcel Koller of his managerial duties after six years.

And they certainly started the match trying to ensure their manager finished his last home on a winning note.

West Ham winger Arnautovic caused plenty of headaches early on.

Firstly, he found Florian Kainz unmarked in the box on six minutes but the winger fired straight at Serbian goalkeeper Stojković.

Arnautovic then missed a sitter three minutes later by nodding wide from eight yards out.

Having weathered the early pressure, Serbia sped ahead from the first attack on 11 minutes through a flowing move.

When Dusan Tadic teed up the onrushing Aleksandar Kolarov down the left, the AS Roma wing-back lofted a deft cross from the left which Maximillian Wober tried to clear.

The debutant’s header succeeded only in finding Milivojevic 20 yards out and the Crystal Palace took one touch before drilling a low volley beyond Heinz Lindner.

Rather than build on that lead, Serbia continued to operate on the counter-attack to their eventual cost.

Kevin Danso was first to threaten an equaliser shortly after the opener.

Arnautovic created the opening by cutting the ball back from the end-line but the defender raked his shot past the far post with Stojkovic stranded.

Ajax teenager Wober almost atoned for his earlier effort by heading home only for Branislav Ivanovic to clear over the crossbar the deserved leveller arrived on 25 minutes.

Stefan Mitrovic had been woeful against Ireland in Belgrade and his defensive frailties were once again exposed when Danso routine lofted through-ball caught him square.

Burgstaller hadn’t scored in his first 11 internationals and he almost messed up in front of goal but managed to poke his half-volley past Stojkovic.

Although the table-toppers had paid for their complacency, they were close to regaining the lead 10 minutes before the break as Ivanovic header from Kolarov’s free-kick beat Lindner but grazed the crossbar.

Tadic also got a sight at goal as the break approach, with his ferocious shot saved, but the hosts too could have went into the break ahead.

Shalke forward Burgstaller was in the right place to connect with Moritz Bauer’s right-cross only to smash his effort directly at Stojkovic.

Austria firmly took control of the second half, with Arnautovic forcing Stojkovic to parry around his near post on 57 minutes.

His patience paid dividends 14 minutes from the end when he swept Burgstaller’s cross home at the back post to make it 2-1.

There was muted celebrations from the 28-year-old, whose father was born in Serbia and he retains a close affinity with the country.

Still, that was on the start of the drama as Matic was left unmarked from Tadic’s cross to apply an easy close-range finish.

Serbia would be punished again for switching off in the last attack of the game, leaving them needing victory over Georgia on Monday to be sure of qualifying for Russia as group victors.

AUSTRIA: H Lindner; M Bauer, A Dragovic, K Danso, M Wober; J Baumgartlinger, S Ilsanker; F Grillitsch (V Lazaro 77), F Kainz (L Schaub 60), M Arnautovic; G Burgstaller (M Gregoritsch 82).
SERBIA: V Stojković; B Ivanovic, S Mitrovic, M Nastasic; A Rukavina (A Ljajic 69), L Milivojevic, N Matic, A Kolarov; M Gacinovic (A Prijovic 87), D Tadic; A Mitrovic
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (CZE).