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Focus on Austria ahead of World Cup qualifier against Republic of Ireland

Austria head for Dublin on Sunday knowing defeat by the Republic of Ireland could all but end their hopes of qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the challenge which lies ahead for Marcel Koller's team.

FORM

In short, not good. Austria went into the Euro 2016 finals as one of those teams which might just spring a surprise or two after an exemplary qualifying campaign. However, they emerged with just a single point to show from their three group games and fell at the first hurdle, and they have fared little better since. They have collected seven points from their five Group D fixtures to date - including a 1-0 November defeat by Ireland in Vienna - and are currently four points adrift of Serbia and the Republic.

MANAGER

Switzerland-born Koller established himself as something of a national hero in his adopted country when he guided Austria to France last summer, having dropped just two points. However, life has become considerably more difficult since and he has problems as he prepares for the game at the Aviva Stadium. To his clear annoyance, Red Bull Salzburg defender Andreas Ulmer is unavailable as he is getting married at the weekend, while Marko Arnautovic and Stefan Ilsanker are suspended and strikers Marc Janko and Marcel Sabitzer have been ruled out by illness and injury respectively, leaving the coach with a major selection headache.

TACTICS

In the last campaign, Austria adopted a 4-2-3-1 system with Bayern Munich left-back David Alaba operating as a holding midfielder, but they have opted for change in recent months. Christian Fuchs' retirement from international football has in part prompted a switch to the 3-4-3 formation they used the last time they played in March. However, Koller has chosen not to play any friendlies in the build-up to the game - Ireland have had two, against Mexico and Uruguay - so opposite number Martin O'Neill may be left guessing until the final moment.

PLAYERS

Alaba is by far the best-known of the current crop of Austrians, although his use in midfield rather than at full-back, from where he gets forward to good effect, has repeatedly been a topic for debate. He does have form against the Republic - he scored in both matches against them during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign - and that could prove vital with Koller's striking options significantly reduced. The manager has problems in goal too, with Eintracht Frankfurt's Heinz Lindner having made his first competitive appearance since October 2013 against Moldova in March.

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