Absent from the six previous editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, Austria would dearly love to secure their maiden appearance at Canada 2015. Having narrowly missed out on reaching the last UEFA European Championship, losing to Russia in the play-offs, the country is now looking to Bayern Munich’s Laura Feiersinger and Viktoria Schnaderbeck to lead them to next year’s showpiece event. It is a challenge the duo are certainly relishing.
“France are the clear favourites in our group, so our target is to finish second,” said 22-year-old midfielder Schnaderbeck. “I reckon we’ll be battling it out with Finland for second place,” added Feiersinger, who is two years younger and has been described by Bayern coach Thomas Wöhrle as one of the brightest talents in Austrian football. Their group, which also features Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Hungary, is by no means an easy one, as evidenced by their opening two games – a convincing 4-0 home victory over the Bulgarians, followed by a 2-1 defeat in Finland.
Paving the way for future success
That said, the Bayern pair have every reason to be optimistic. A good team spirit and a strong, compact defence are the Austrians’ major strengths. Another plus point is the average age of the team that, according to Schnaderbeck, has fallen considerably. There are some concerns, however. “Our chance-conversion rate is definitely our main weakness,” admitted Feiersinger, who plays as a striker and managed to get on the score sheet against Bulgaria. “We create plenty of chances, but rarely make the most of them.”
Both agree that the team is on the right track, however. This “difficult, slow, yet steady upward trajectory” is in no small measure down to the sterling efforts made in Austrian women’s football in recent years. “The national centre gives us a solid foundation,” Schnaderbeck explained. “Girls work hard on technical and tactical aspects, as well as on their fitness, from an early age.” For all that, Austria’s hopes of one day emulating the outstanding success of their German neighbours still rest “largely on the results of the first team”.
The fact that that many Austrians now ply their trade in Germany and other international leagues can only benefit the national side, according to Schnaderbeck. “The demands placed on us here are very different and we can put that experience to good use at international level.” Compared with Austrian league games, German matches “are much tougher. Besides, fitness levels are now so high that you have to be at the top of your game if you want to hold your own,” added Schnaderbeck. “There’s also the tactical side of things! Defensively, everyone here is able to press, so you need to have great pace and individual skill to prosper. That's one big difference.
Winning in the blood
Schnaderbeck and Feiersinger both got into football through their families. Wolfgang Feiersinger, Laura’s father, was an accomplished defender for Borussia Dortmund, among others, even winning the UEFA Champions League with the German giants. Schnaderbeck’s cousin, meanwhile, is current Werder Bremen centre-back Sebastian Prodl, with whom she gets on very well. “We meet up on a regular basis,” she said. The women admitted that comparisons with their male counterparts can be “irritating”, however.
The pair’s greatest achievement to date is lifting the DFB Cup with Bayern in 2012 after overcoming firm favourites 1. FFC Frankfurt in the final in Cologne. “That was my first title and it was something special,” recalled Feiersinger. “We were the underdogs, yet we managed to win 2-0.”
The two players are keen to build on this success with the Bavarian side. Their goal for this season is to “challenge for honours and become more consistent than in recent years”. By raising their game at club level, Schnaderbeck and Feiersinger also hope to improve the prospects of the national team. The duo share the same hopes for the future: “Taking part in the European Championships or World Cup is a big aim for us.” And who is to say they cannot make that dream a reality by qualifying for Canada in 2015…