Jubilation was the order of the day for Austria after the national U-20 team qualified for a world finals for the first time in 23 years. The Austrians will now travel to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 from 30 June to 22 July 2007 aiming to prove that the diminutive nation's diverse range of youth talent programmes, including the Challenge Project and a system of close co-operation between coaches, regional associations and clubs, has begun to bear fruit. The Austrians are determined to improve on their last appearance at the FIFA World Youth Championship back in 1983, where they packed for home after a disappointing group campaign in Mexico with defeats to Argentina, Czechoslovakia and China.
Austria took the final and decisive step towards a berth in Canada in their last group match at the U-19 European Championship in Poland, shrugging off a dire injury situation to register a convincing 4-1 victory over Belgium and secure the runners-up spot in their group, enough for a place in the last four and a ticket to the world finals. They made no further progress in Poland after crashing to a 5-0 defeat against eventual winners Spain, only proving able to compete on level terms for the first half hour. Earlier, they opened their campaign with a clinical 1-0 victory over the hosts courtesy of a goal from shooting star Erwin Hoffer, before falling 3-1 to the Czech Republic in their second group encounter. The Austrians looked a solid and capable unit in their four matches, despite the loss of a clutch of key players to injury.
Paul Gludovatz counts as part of the furniture in the Austrian coaching scene after a career spanning nigh-on 25 years. The UEFA U-19 European Championship in Poland was his 13th tour of duty with an Austrian youth side at a European finals, and the 60-year-old has already enjoyed a taste of the rarefied finals air after coaching the ÖFB side at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Egypt 1997. Nevertheless, the tournament in Poland had special significance for Gludovatz, as he led the same generation to fifth at the U-17 European Championship two years earlier. No previous Austrian age group had managed to qualify for two European Championship finals in succession.
Gludovatz, whose playing career included a spell in the second division, took charge of the current side in early 2003. They will now be regarded as dark horses in Canada. "Belief is the key to success," the wily coach insists. He led a U-16 side to the UEFA European Championship semi-finals in 1994 before guiding a succession of junior teams up through the ranks. The 2007 finals promise to be a genuine highlight of his long coaching career.
Erwin Hoffer is widely held to be one of the most talented and potent strikers in the country. The 19-year-old, who switched to Rapid Vienna from Admira Wacker in 2006, scored four goals in three group matches in Poland, only to miss the semi-final against Spain after collecting two yellow cards. Most observers expect him to step up to the U-21 national side very soon. A pacy and hard-tackling winger, nicknamed 'Jimmy' after a junior coach once compared him to sound-alike US Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, hails from a large family and has been a passionate football fan from a very young age.
Hoffer possesses a powerful and precise shot and belongs to the category of player normally classified as direct in front of goal. He began playing with Casino Baden before switching to Admira as a teenager. He made his top-flight debut against Mattersburg just a few days after his 18th birthday, and scored four goals in 17 top-flight appearances last term. The 2007 finals in Canada offers him a chance to measure his talent against similarly gifted strikers of the same age.