Austria’s hopes of reaching Euro 2012 suffered a major blow after they went down 2-1 at home to Germany on Friday.The hosts came in to the match in Vienna fourth in Group A, eight points behind leaders Germany and three back from second-placed Belgium.
With Joachim Loew’s World Cup semi-finalists looking assured of top spot, the best Austria could hope for was second place and chance of qualifying through the playoffs.
Against the odds, they were level at 1-1 heading toward the final whistle and looked set to take a point from the match at the Ernst Happel Stadium.
But a late winner from Mario Gomez snatched yet another victory for Germany, who remain unbeaten in competitive matches against their neighbours stretching back to the 1978 World Cup.
Seeking revenge from a 1-0 quarter-final defeat on home soil that ended Austria’s participation in Euro 2008, the hosts enjoyed the first sight of goal when Stuttgart forward Martin Harnik headed narrowly wide.
Living up to their billing as heavy favourites, Germany responded with a barrage of chances.
The best of them fell to Cologne forward Lukas Podolski, who smashed a shot against the crossbar after a slick passing exchange with Gomez.
Bayern Munich striker Gomez also headed straight at Austria goalkeeper Christian Graetzei, before the home side unexpectedly threatened to take control.
Napoli’s Erwin Hoffer came closest to converting Austria’s brief dominance into a lead, shooting narrowly wide from close range.
Despite dictating play for much of the first half, the home side found themselves behind going into the break when Gomez netted from close range after Austria’s defence failed to clear a corner.
Shaking off the disappointment of conceding, Dietmar Constantini’s side began the second half in defiant fashion.
And they were duly rewarded on 49 minutes, when Wolfsburg full-back Arne Friedrich turned David Alaba’s cross into his own net.
Rapid Vienna’s Stefan Kulovits came inches away from making it 2-1 to Austria, hitting the post just minutes after the equaliser.
But it would be the same old story for Austria, as another defensive mistake cost them the reward their endeavours so richly deserved.
With just a minute remaining, Gomez found himself goal-side of his marker and converted a cross from captain Philipp Lahm, grabbing all three points for the visitors and leaving Austria’s qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
Loew’s side, now a commanding seven points clear at the top of the group, are all but certain to reach next year’s finals in Poland and the Ukraine.