Austria’s 1978 Odyssey: Chapter 2 – Delightful Shocks

It took just nine minutes for the deadlock to be broken in Austria’s opening World Cup fixture against Spain in Buenos Aires.

Centre back Bruno Pezzey’s anticipation helped quickly snuff out a pass that was intended for Spain’s full back Antonio De La Cruz. Pezzey then sprayed the ball to Walter Schachner near the touchline to quickly transition from defence to attack. Spain’s defensive shape was all over the place and Austria now faced an two on two situation. Schachner drove forward into Spain’s half and Hans Krankl cleverly drew the covering defender towards him by making a supporting run.

Schachner was now one on one with Spain’s Migueli and easily accelerated past the defender into the 18 yard box. Schachner was faced with a tight angle and goalkeeper Miguel Àngel rushing out from his line towards him. Yet the 21 year old expertly showed composure by fiercely rifling his shot into the top corner at the near post to give Austria the lead. Spain nearly found themselves two goals down when Wilhelm Kreuz’s attempted half volley was acrobatically smothered by Spain’s Miguel Ángel.

This was the wake up call that Spain needed and got back into the game on 21 minutes. Full back Marcelino launched a hopeful cross into the box from the right. Dani, under pressure from Pezzey, could only head the ball into the air. Pezzey completely lost his bearings of where the ball was but Dani had his eyes on the ball and hit it first time on the volley. A slight deflection was all that was needed for the ball to evade Koncilia and find the bottom corner.

Buoyed by the equaliser, La Roja exerted pressure on the Austrians and soon had a glit edged chance. Marcelino played a perfectly weighted through ball that enabled Ruben Cano to slip past Pezzey. Cano entered the penalty area from Spain’s right and cut inside at full pace. But Pezzey made a stunning recovery tackle to dispossess Cano who was simultaneously taken out by the onrushing Koncilia. The loose ball rolled towards forward Carlos Rexach only for his effort to be cleared off the line by Austria’s skipper Robert Sara for a corner.

Spain would then spurn a golden chance late in the first half. Midfielder Julio Cardeñosa played a quick one-two with Isidoro San José. Austria’s Erich Obermayer diligently tracked Cardeñosa’s run and cleared the ball away. It was heading out for a corner, but Cardeñosa displayed immense desire to chase the ball, somehow hooking a cross into the six yard box. Ruben Cano waited to take advantage but horribly miscued his shot.

Identifying his players were in the ascendancy, Spain’s manager Ladislao Kubala went on the offensive in the second half, replacing Cardeñosa for a more attacking midfielder in Eugenio Leal. Kubala had listened to his attacking instincts but it was the Austrians that should have retaken the lead early in the second half. 

Midfielder Josef Hickersberger played the ball down Austria’s left for Kurt Sara, the brother of captain Robert. He then instinctively whipped in a low cross into the box. The Spanish centre back got his body shape all wrong, as Hans Krankl was first to the ball, skipping past the defender’s lunging tackle and only had Miguel Ángel to beat. The striker took another touch to set himself up for the shot but uncharacteristically blazed the ball high and wide of the post.

Spain then replaced Dani with striker Quini, Kubala hopeful that more attacking Austria had the final words on 76 minutes. Robert Sara and Herbert Prohaska exchanged passes to release the former down the right wing. The captain’s deep cross into the box was headed away by Spain’s Marcelino. The ball was then laid off to Kurt Sara who launched a fierce drive from outside the box. It ricocheted off the unfortunate Migueli into the path of Hans Krankl. The striker made amends for his earlier miss and expertly guided the ball into the bottom corner. Spain furiously tried to score an equalizer but the Austrians held on for a famous win.



Beating Spain was a huge morale booster to the squad. They were also top of the group after Brazil’s 1-1 to Sweden – thanks to Zico’s famous disallowed goal.

Austria’s next game was against Sweden four days later and it was a chance to exact revenge. Both sides were tied with the same amount of points, goal difference and head to head in the 1974 World Cup qualifiers. UEFA decreed a playoff to be held at a neutral venue to determine who would qualify. The stadium chosen was in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany. The field was blanketed in heavy snow before kick-off yet the game still went ahead. Known as the Snömatchen, Sweden beat Austria 2-1 and qualified for the 1974 World Cup.

Senekowitsch decided to play it safe and switched formation from 4-4-3 to 4-4-2.  Walter Schachner was the unfortunate man to be sacrificed and was replaced by midfielder Eduard Krieger. The Austrians started strongly and Hellström was alert to deny Krankl at his near post. Sweden responded with Lennart Larsson’s thunderous drive strongly parried by Koncilia. 

Eduard Krieger then showed why Senekowitsch put him in the starting line up. Kurt Jara harried the Swedish midfield and won the ball back in the final third. Krieger then controlled the loose ball and sprayed a magnificent diagonal cross into the box. Kreuz slipped past his marker Ingemar Erlandsson and directed a bullet header towards the top corner. Kreuz thought he scored but Hellström brilliantly tipped the ball over the bar. 

Controversy would occur just before half time. Hans Krankl tried to beat Sweden’s full back for pace and went down easily in the box. Contact was at best minimal but Dutch referee Charles Corver awarded the penalty. Commentator Jack Charlton wasn’t impressed.

“That was a great dive,” he said sarcastically. Krankl got up and promptly sent Hellström the wrong way to put Austria ahead at half time. Austria had multiple chances to double their lead in the second half but Hellström was in inspired form. His instinctive point blank save to deny Kreuz was simply world class. Sweden created very little and their substitutes proved ineffective. 

Senekowitsch tried to protect the lead by putting on defender Heribert Weber to replace a midfielder in Krieger. Whenever Sweden pushed forward they were stopped by Austria’s reinforced back five. The Swedes became vulnerable to the counterattack and Krankl once again caused problems. Austria’s smart game management helped see the game out and their 1-0 victory sealed their passage to the second group stage.


By: Yousef Teclab

Photo: Gabriel Fraga