Sept 11 (Reuters) - Vienna’s Ernst Happel stadium is possibly the only international soccer venue where classical music is played to whip up the crowd before the game.
Austria’s entrance onto the pitch is traditionally preceded by the playing of Johann Strauss’s “Radetzky March”, accompanied by clapping and frenzied flag-waving in the crowd.
Once the game kicks off, however, it is invariably David Alaba who calls the tune.
The 21-year-old, by far the most exciting player to have emerged from Austria in the last few years, was in a class of his own as he guided Austria to a 1-0 win over Ireland on Tuesday, keeping alive their hopes of a first World Cup appearance since 1998.
Playing in the centre of midfield, rather than the fullback role he is usually given at his club Bayern Munich, Alaba, the son of a Nigerian father and Filipino mother, was at the centre of each one of Austria’s best moves.
Alaba produced their only two first-half chances, both with shots from outside the penalty area, in a ragged performance by the hosts before the break.
He enthusiastically took part in coach Marcel Koller’s pressing when the Irish defence had possession of the ball and just failed to set up a scoring chance with a remarkable 80-metre charge down the field.
Almost inevitably, he scored the winning goal, blasting the ball into the roof of the net with his supposedly weaker right foot in the 84th minute.
“The dream is still alive, and we are going to do everything we can to fulfill it,” he told reporters. “It’s unbelievable.”
The only concern about Alaba’s performance was that he possibly tried to do too much as he also took corners and free kicks.
Raised at Austria Vienna, Alaba made his professional debut at the age of 15 and his international debut two years later.
His first Bayern Munich appearance was also at the age of 17 and last year, he helped them win an unprecedented treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League.
Although he speaks with a Viennese accent, he has not forgotten his roots.
The softly-spoken Alaba is astonishingly dedicated to his profession and there have been none of the mishaps which have affected Marko Arnautovic, who was once at Inter Milan and now finds himself at Stoke City.
“I’ve been to the Philippines twice and also to my father’s homeland,” Alaba once said in an interview with FIFA.com.
“The difference between Nigeria and my life in Austria and Germany is notorious. It was only when I visited these places that I realised how good I’ve got it. I‘m very thankful.”
Austria have not qualified for the World Cup since 1998 and there is a danger that Alaba could join the ranks of outstanding players who never got the chance to play at the finals.
Even after Tuesday’s dramatic win, they still have an uphill battle ahead of them.
They visit second-placed Sweden in their next match and must win that game to pull level with their opponents.
After that, they face the a trip to the Faroes, where they famously lost a European championship qualifier in 1990 and, if they complete that part of the equation, a two-leg playoff against another European side beckons. (Editing by John O‘Brien)