Austria's Euro 2016 journey will be driven by their best generation in almost 100 years

Raf Diallo looks at a side spearheaded by Bayern Munich star David Alaba

David Alaba, Austria

Austria's David Alaba jubilates after scoring during an international friendly soccer match between Austria and Switzerland in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

If you’ve ever read Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, it becomes quite clear just how influential central Europe’s coffee houses proved in the development of football on the continent.

Vienna was one of the capitals of that football culture with ideas discussed in such locales which would go on to influence the game.

It had more than just a simple level of influence as central European nations enjoyed preeminence in European football during the pre-and immediate post-World War II years.

Austria and Hungary - particularly in the post-war period for the Magyars - were among the best sides in the world during the 1930s and 1950s.

The axis of global influence has switched to different poles in the intervening years and for Austria, the Alpine nation has lapsed into relative irrelevance when it comes to world football.

Some of us may remember their short stay the last time France held a tournament back in 1998, as they failed to advance from a group featuring Italy, Cameroon and Norway.

Toni Polster ©INPHO/Allsport

Yet that side which was built around former Cologne forward Toni Polster and ex-Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich midfielder Andreas Herzog was about as good as it got for the country over the course of the next decade.

Between the 1998 World Cup sejour all the way to their qualification for Euro 2016, Austria did not qualify for a major tournament.

They did appear at one, granted. But their Euro 2008 only took place because they happened to be joint-host nation with a Switzerland which has been ahead of them since the turn of the Millennium.

The 2008 European Championships, which was Austria’s first ever continental tournament appearance, didn’t go well.

Unlike the Swiss, they didn’t finish bottom of their group but only collected one point from a group featuring dark horses Croatia, a resurgent Germany and a Poland who finished bottom on goal difference.

Yet as Austria’s seniors dealt with failure, a new generation was beginning to emerge with Bayern Munich’s Mr Verstatile David Alaba as its world class face.

Alaba was not part of the Austria side which qualified for the prestigious and important FIFA U20 World Cup in 2007 due to the fact that he is 4-5 years younger than that particular panel, but he now finds himself surrounded by players who made their mark in that tournament.

Austria's Sebastian Proedl, right, challenges Gambia's Ousman Jallow for the ball during their FIFA Under 20 World Cup soccer match in Edmonton, Canada on Wednesday July 11, 2007. Austria won 2-1. (AP Photo/CP,Ian Jackson)

Current senior players like striker Rubin Okotie, Watford defender Sebastian Prodl, Stuttgart forward Martin Harnik and Werder Bremen midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic were among the squad members who not only got out of their group in the competition hosted by Canada but advanced all the way to the semi-finals, after which they missed out on the bronze medal to a Chile team including superstars of the ilk of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, as well as Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla.

In addition to that 2007 under-20 generation, Stoke’s most impressive forward this season Marko Arnautovic is just a year younger, while Leicester full-back Christian Fuchs is a couple of years older.

Dynamo Kyiv defender Aleskandar Dragovic and Tottenham’s August 2015 defensive addition Kevin Wimmer, are also the same age as star man Alaba at 23.

The Bayern star, who has established himself as one of the Top 5 full-backs in world football at club level, instead brings star quality to midfield for the Austrians.

The Vienna native has scored 11 international goals - including a last minute equaliser against Ireland in a 2014 World Cup qualifier that still sends shivers for anyone who happened to be in the Aviva Stadium that night - ever since he won a first cap that made him the youngest player to ever represent Austria as a 17-year-old back in 2009.

Almost seven years on, he finally makes his major international tournament debut and should Austria do well in France this time by getting out of a group featuring Portugal, Iceland and Hungary and go on an adventure deep into the tournament, the words ‘golden generation’ may just be dusted off once more.