Austrian football fans have reason to celebrate. Against all odds, their team has not only qualified for the European Championship, but is also taken as a serious contender in a group with Portugal, Iceland and Hungary – a first in the modern history of Austrian football.
Not, however, if one looks further back. In the early 1900s, footballers from across the Empire ranked among Europe’s best.
The first international match outside of Britain was Vienna vs. Budapest on October 12, 1902, and encounters between these two all-but-national national teams – Transleithania (greater Hungary) and Cisleithania (Austria, Bohemia, Galicia) – were the pinnacle of each season.
Even after 1919, Austria continued to benefit from the talent that had flocked in to Vienna in the decades before.
The “Wunderteam” of 1931/32 thrashed the Germans 6:0 in Berlin, defeated the Hungarians 8:2 in Vienna (after a draw in Budapest) and lost unluckily against the English 3:4, nevertheless a deed unprecedented against the mother country of football. The Daily Mail called the Austrian offense a “revelation” and counted players Sindelar, Vogl, Smistik and Nausch among “the best in the world.”
Today, players like Alaba, Arnautovic and Dragovíc post selfies smiling in front of a painting of Maria-Theresia.
As fans chant “Immer wieder, Österreich!,” it seems that Austrian football has at last returned to its roots.