Austria get helping hand

It is always useful to have an influential, experienced head around the team camp to offer the U-20 youngsters advice and Austria have got one of the best men available in Andreas Herzog.

With 103 international appearances to his name - an Austrian record - Herzog is in Canada to run the rule over the country's latest crop of youngsters as the federation looks forward to co-hosting UEFA EURO 2008 with Switzerland next year. Now retired from playing, Herzog is assistant to national head coach Josef Hickersberger and he is on hand to be a role model figure to Austria's squad at their headquarters in Edmonton.

Herzog told "I'm checking on their development and seeing if they are perhaps ready to play in the first team in 2008. Four of them have already been in our national team: 'Jimmy' Hoffer, Sebastian Proedl, Zlatko Junuzovic and Veli Kaflak. Two or three other guys might have a chance but maybe not next year. We have a few fast forwards out here and they can cause big problems for any defence."

Nobody is better qualified than 38-year-old Herzog to give his opinion as he had a distinguished playing career which took him from SK Rapid Wien, to Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and back to Vienna until he hung up his boots in 2004 after one season in the MLS with LA Galaxy.

Herzog found the anonymity of life in the States a refreshing change of pace after living in the goldfish bowl of European football. He said: "It was a new experience for me to be able to walk out of my house without people always coming up and either saying 'congratulations' or worse if you have lost a game, as it is in Austria or Germany. It was totally different but I enjoyed it very much. The MLS is getting better from year to year."

Hoffer grateful
Former midfielder Herzog pointed out that Austria have struggled to produce quality strikers in recent years, though they currently have one of the brightest prospects around in 20-year-old Erwin 'Jimmy' Hoffer, weho scored in their 1-1 draw against Congo. He is following in Herzog's footsteps at SK Rapid Wien and he for one is grateful to have the Austrian legend with the squad. "Andreas was a very good offensive player so he can help me and the midfielders a lot. He has so much experience to tell us about," he said.

Herzog worries that players like Hoffer are not getting a look-in at their clubs, however. "The big problem in the Austrian league is that these guys don't get enough chances to play in the first team," said Herzog. "The thinking seems to be go for foreign players because they have more experience but we need to get the young kids involved. Austrian teams have not had a lot of success in recent years and we need to win more games to get the self-confidence up.

"It was important for us to qualify for this U-20 World Cup. I never reached for one of these youth tournaments myself but I wish I had. You will see a lot these players taking on a big role in world football in the next few years."