Austria's national treasure
© Foto-net

Paul Gludovatz has become something of a national hero back home after guiding his young charges to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup and Austria's head coach is living proof that the old adage: "Nice guys don't win" isn't always necessarily true.

There are few people at this tournament with a sunnier, more cheerful disposition and although television pictures of him at work on the touchline can sometimes give the impression of a stern-looking individual, it is fair to say that off the pitch Gludovatz is one of the most pleasant, jolly and decent men to spend any amount of time with.

Always ready with a smile and a handshake, Gludovatz has seemingly been on top form ever since he set foot on Canadian soil, although all that is not to say he does not take his job deadly seriously. Far from it. His attention to detail and meticulous planning have been a revelation at this tournament; from the effort he put into preparing his team for Canada 2007, right down to the tactical acumen which saw him leave one of his best players out of the starting eleven for the last two matches... then send him on as a substitute to score the winning goal.

The sub in question is Erwin 'Jimmy' Hoffer, who was surprisingly left on the bench at the start of Austria's knockout round matches against Gambia and USA, before striking the decisive blows in back-to-back 2-1 victories which set up a meeting with Czech Republic in the last four in Edmonton on Wednesday. All that came after Austria qualified unbeaten from a group which included fellow semi-finalists Chile and although nobody expected Hoffer to be dropped, Gludovatz obviously knew what he was doing.

Joking to the assembled media at a press conference, Gludovatz said: "It's in Jimmy's contract to come off the bench and score a goal... I don't know if we will bring him on in the next game. We might just save him for the Final." In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 60-year-old said with more conviction: "Every player is as important as the next one, whether he plays for two minutes or 90. Jimmy is a special case, perhaps, because at the start of the tournament he did a lot of running and he can't maintain that high quality throughout the matches.

' Good fortune'
"We had some lucky substitutions. It is not just my thinking, it is also that of the coaching staff. It isn't just a case of being 'clever', it is also good fortune as you need both. You can't take it for granted that you will score just because you put somebody on. The first thing we were thinking about when we took on the USA was that it would be a very physical game with a lot of running and battling," said Gludovatz, who was born of Croatian parents.

"Secondly, we thought it would be close. After the opening goal for the States, we had to show more of ourselves physically and the USA played nearly the same starting eleven in every match, which indicated that they didn't have the same kind of quality among the substitutes. We knew that our bench was stronger, that the USA had some injuries and also that they had some bookings to cope with."

Before this championship even started, Gludovatz made absolutely certain he had done all he could to get Austria in shape to succeed. "You can't expect something like this run," he admitted. "You can work for it and hope for it, but not expect it and we worked for it over a lot of months before the tournament. It was a very individual job to speak to all the players and coaches to have our best preparation, with additional physical sessions. We did special exercises and bought in items for training, including flexible bars to help develop internal muscles, for example.

"We spoke to the club coaches about how many games the players had. I have good connections with the coaches in the Austrian Bundesliga down to the first and second division. All of these things were necessary. Our preparation was divided into three separate phases within three weeks. Our philosophy was the boys had some excitement, some concentration, then they went home and came back again to reach their peak. We also had programmes for individual training at home. It was a real challenge."

As for facing the Czech Republic, you can bet that Gludovatz has done his homework and this was his assessment of what to expect on Wednesday night. "The Czechs are very strong physically. I hope that we can cope with that and also that we can show our own technical skills, playing combination football. It will be difficult when we have to go to extra-time."

Note the use of the word 'when' there. Asked to confirm if he was confident that extra-time would be necessary at the Commonwealth Stadium, Gludovatz nodded several times and concluded: "Yes, that's the clear thought at the back of my mind."