It was there in September 1997 that Herzog received the ball near the halfway line, dribbled it through Sweden’s defense toward the corner of the 18-yard box and fired a left-footed shot into the goal to send Austria to the 1998 Word Cup. The goal was immortalized not on only an Austrian stamp but on a stamp that used lenticular technology to allow mailers the illusion of watching a short video of the strike again and again, as though it were a handheld GIF.
Austria hasn’t returned to the World Cup Finals since then, with Sweden getting revenge on the penultimate matchday in 2013, using a 2-1 win to book playoff passage. There was no Herzog for Austria, and there was an Ibrahimovic for Sweden. There were rumors Herzog, whose 103 appearances make him his country’s most-capped player, would take over as the national team boss.
“Of course I heard those rumors, too,” he told Sky Austria in October. “Jurgen (Klinsmann) heard about it as well and directly talked to me about it.”
Herzog told Klinsmann he didn’t have to worry about losing the coach before the 2014 World Cup, a pact that seems firm after Austria extended the contract of current coach Marcel Koller through 2015 just before the Swiss announced his roster for Tuesday’s friendly.
Koller’s contract automatically extends should he lead the Alpine nation to the European Championships in 2016. But if he fails to do that, the former Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich midfielder would be a logical replacement. He still lives in Vienna, where he heads up the USA’s European scouting efforts and has experience as both an assistant with the senior Austrian national team and as the head man of the U-21s.
That’s a long way down the road, though. For now, Herzog will be focused on helping the U.S. to a win against his homeland’s side and then turning his focus to the World Cup after qualifying atop the region.
“We worked two years very hard for that,” Herzog told Sky Austria about winning the qualification group. “From Austria it might look a little easier. You don't know the teams we faced in the qualifiers. But if you take into consideration that Mexico almost didn't do it, the others can't be totally blind.”
Nor can Austrians be blind to the fact that the future of its national team might be a member of its past sitting right under its nose at Ernst-Happel-Stadion.