Hoffer lets goals do talking
© Foto-net

Austria striker Erwin 'Jimmy' Hoffer has been one of the main talking points at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, though he himself is a man of precious few words.

The Rapid Vienna forward's three goals have helped Austria to the semi-finals of Canada 2007, despite the fact that he has started the knockout rounds on the substitutes' bench, only emerging late in the day to inflict the killer blows which saw off Gambia and USA in their last two games. Hoffer announced his presence after just seven minutes in Austria's opening group game against Congo, scoring in Edmonton in a 1-1 draw which offered no indication that this was to be a stellar year for the Austrians, who return to Commonwealth Stadium just over two weeks later for a final four showdown with European neighbours Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Austria coach Paul Gludovatz has been fielding a barrage of questions about why he leaves a player of such dazzling potential out of his starting lineup and, to deflect unwelcome attention from Hoffer, or even perhaps to amuse himself, the veteran boss offers a variety of different answers. Hoffer, he has said, is the "joker" he wants to play in extra-time.

Gludovatz has also quipped that it is in Hoffer's contract to score after coming on as a sub but the most convincing reply is that the tireless running he put in during the group stages took its toll and he can be used to greater effect late in the game with fresh legs. However, it must not be overlooked that the strong performances put in by two-goal fellow striker Rubin Okotie have meant that he has also deserved a place in the side which is accustomed to setting up with a lone frontman.

Bench cheerleader
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Hoffer said: "For every player who is on the bench it is a bit disappointing to not start but when I am there I also feel like I am in the game, cheering the lads on who are playing. However, of course it's better when I come on. I can't be not satisfied with how things have gone for me at this tournament because the whole team has done well and there's certainly nothing to complain about.

"It's a super feeling to score for your country though it's not that important who scores the winning goal but if it's you, naturally that is quite special. Everything is possible against the Czech Republic and you know that will be doing our very best to get to the Final. I believe that we are capable of getting there. None of us knew beforehand how our World Cup would go because we have never been at one before. We played well in our first match and we have improved with every game to get us into the semi-finals."

The Hoffer Effect was first apparent at last summer's UEFA U-19 Championship finals in Poland. He did not score in any of the qualifiers though when the finals kicked in, he grabbed four goals in three group matches but missed the semi-final defeat against Spain after collecting two yellow cards. The finger-pointing run towards the bench goal celebration that has become familiar at Canada 2007 was in evidence in Poland, though Hoffer himself looked quite different. A year ago his hair was shoulder-length and tied back by a blue band but in Canada he has caught the eye with a closer-cropped look and his nickname 'Jimmy' shaved into his locks above his left ear.

Nickname sticks
That moniker was given to him by a youth coach who played on the similarity of his surname to that of the former US Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, though the 20-year-old admits he knows nothing about the man. Young Erwin has never seen the 1992 biopic film featuring Jack Nicholson in the title role and has no idea that the union leader with a notorious reputation disappeared without trace in mysterious circumstances in the suburbs of Detroit in 1975, four years after his release from prison following a conviction for attempted bribery of a grand juror. Clearly, his connection with Hoffa is tenuous in the extreme but the Austrian says he quite likes the nickname and it has certainly stuck.

Hoffer hails from a large family of five sisters and three brothers and up until now the clan has gathered to watch the games in the restaurant owned by his girlfriend Jasmin's parents. For the semi-final the ritual will change as everyone will congregate at his own parents' house in Baden, hoping to see history repeat itself with Hoffer scoring again to send Austria into the Final against either Argentina or Chile on 22 July.

"We kind of get a feeling of what's happening in Austria right now but we don't know exactly what the atmosphere is like," he said. "To be honest, I can't imagine what it is going to be like when we are back home. If we win the World Cup, I guess life may slightly change for me but I can't get my head round that at the moment."