Spain returns to Vienna 17 months after Euro 2008

Spain will return to the Ernst Happel Stadium to play Austria in a friendly on Wednesday, almost 17 months after it lifted the European Championship in the same stadium to snap 44 years of futility in major championships.

“It’s going to bring back intense and unforgettable memories,” said midfielder Xabi Alonso, who scored both goals in Spain’s 2-1 friendly win over Argentina on Saturday.

Most of the players in the squad for the Austria game were among those who beat Germany 1-0 in the Euro 2008 final.

The biggest name missing is Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, who scored the lone goal in that final. He continues to recover from a hernia injury.

Carles Puyol is unlikely to start the match as the Barcelona defender recovers from a knock to his left knee.

Spain is staying cautious as it continued its strong run to next year’s World Cup against fellow favorite Argentina. Spain has lost only twice in three years.

“We’re in the group of favorites, … (but) perfection doesn’t exist,” defender Gerard Pique said. “We need to continue improving and taking advantage of the different styles of play this group offers.”

Spain’s play continues in the style of Barcelona’s possession-based, attacking football, and Argentina coach Diego Maradona said David Silva and Xavi Hernandez’s play threw his team into chaos during a dominant first half.

Coach Vicente del Bosque, however, was unhappy with one with one aspect of Spain’s play on Saturday, complaining that the team didn’t attack to the final whistle.

“It was strange how we showed a conservative spirit in the second half to protect the result,” Del Bosque said.

Spain has won 8 of 15 previous matches against Austria, including a 9-0 victory in a European Championship qualifier in 1999 – Austria’s heaviest defeat since losing 11-1 to England in 1908.

“It’s David against Goliath,” striker Marc Janko said. “We can live with a draw or even a small loss. Of course we want to win but that’s going to be very difficult.”

Janko scored 39 goals for Salzburg in Austria’s domestic league last season and received the national Footballer of the Year award Sunday.

“Spain’s defenders are very good at switching from defense to attack. They are like playmakers,” Janko said. “We must not try to compete with them technically or we will be outplayed. … We need to be robust.”

Int’l Friendlies, Nov. 14

Austria, which missed out on World Cup qualification from a group that also included Serbia and France, is without several experienced players.

Goalkeeper Alexander Manninger and defender Martin Stranzl retired from the team recently, while former captain Andreas Ivanschitz was left out of the squad again.

Atalanta defender Gyorgy Garics has publicly criticized coach Dietmar Constantini for overlooking the Mainz playmaker.

“I believe that a player of his quality should be in the team,” said Garics, who added Constantini was relying too much on young and upcoming talents.

Constantini had no problems with Garics speaking out but he didn’t share the defender’s opinion.

“It’s OK when someone takes his responsibility and says what he thinks,” Constantini said. “But I am the coach and I take the decisions … We didn’t win more matches in the past when we had more experienced players.”