Zlatko Dalic’s side are aiming to progress to the Nations League finals with victory, while nothing less than three points will do for Das Team if they are to remain in the top division.
Any hopes of Austria overcoming a France side bedevilled by controversy off the field and countless injuries on it were swiftly dashed on Thursday night, as Das Team’s relegation woes deepened with a 2-0 loss to the reigning world and Nations League champions.
Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud were both on target in a game where victory for Austria would have seen them retain their League A status at the expense of France’s, but the hosts’ fate is now out of their own hands ahead of the final matchday.
Das Team have collected four points from their five matches and now occupy the fourth and final place in League A Group 1; a defeat or a draw would signal the end of their time in League A, as France possess a better head-to-head record.
Whatever transpires at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion will be rendered inconsequential if France come away from their clash with Denmark with three points to their name, and an immediate return to League B is the most probable outcome for Austria at this point.
Rangnick’s men have now suffered three defeats and posted one draw from their last four Nations League encounters and have gone six games at home without a clean sheet in all competitions, but they possess fond memories from their summer showdown with Croatia.
With current holders France already consigned to a third-placed finish at best, it is a straight shootout between Croatia and Denmark for top spot in League A Group 1 and a coveted place in the Finals, and Zlatko Dalic’s side did what they had to do against their Scandinavian counterparts on Thursday.
Borna Sosa and Lovro Majer‘s goals either side of Christian Eriksen‘s response put Croatia in the driving seat before the final matchday with a 2-1 victory in Zagreb, which marked a third successive win for the Chequered Ones after ending June with a 1-0 triumphs over Denmark and France.
Now holding a one-point buffer over Denmark in the rankings, the formula for Croatia is simple. Victory over Austria would guarantee the 2018 World Cup runners-up a spot in the Finals, but even a draw or defeat would suffice if the Danes cannot better their result against France.
With only one goal conceded across their last 270 minutes of Nations League football, Das Team ought to feel quietly confident about their chances of quelling a depleted Austria attack and make the Finals of the Nations League for the very first time, which would serve as a major injection of confidence before the World Cup.
However, Austria’s only win in the 2022-23 tournament so far came in a 3-0 thumping of Croatia on the opening matchday back in June, but the visitors have won each of their other five meetings with Das Team stretching back to 2000.
Austria boss Rangnick will welcome centre-back Kevin Danso back from suspension for the visit of Croatia, but veteran left-back Andreas Ulmer will need a once-over after missing the loss to France with a gastrointestinal infection.
A torrid evening for Andreas Weimann saw the Bristol City man pick up a booking before coming off injured in the 50th minute on Thursday night, and Rangnick has also conceded that David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic‘s withdrawals were also fitness-related.
The returning Danso and Michael Gregoritsch could therefore deputise in an Austria side that may be far from full-strength, with Sasa Kalajdzic also absent for the foreseeable future with his ACL injury.
Meanwhile, Croatia attacker Ivan Perisic had to come off injured in the 71st minute of his side’s win over Denmark – ironically due to a tackle from Tottenham Hotspur teammate Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – and the extent of his damage is currently unclear.
While Croatia and Spurs fans wait for news on Perisic’s condition, Dalic is in good hands with Mislav Orsic ready to fill the void on the left-hand side, while Majer will push to replace Mario Pasalic after taking less than a minute to score the winner as a substitute in midweek.
Veteran centre-back Domagoj Vida will become the 10th Croatian men’s player to reach 100 caps if he plays on Sunday, but any minutes for the 33-year-old will likely come from the bench as Josko Gvardiol and Josip Sutalo pair up again.
Austria possible starting lineup:
Pentz; Trimmel, Lienhart, Danso, Wober; Sabitzer, Schlager, Siewald, Baumgartner; Onisiwo, Gregoritsch
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Gvardiol, Sutalo, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Majer, Kramaric, Orsic