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FOOTBALL: What can Benitez's boys expect from Austrians?

WHO are AK Graz? CITY rivals to the better known Sturm Graz, AK share the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium with their neighbours, but for years have lived in their shadows.

The arrival of coach Walter Schachner two years ago changed all that, though, and for the second year in succession Graz have a chance of making the lucrative league format of the Champions League.

COACH: Walt Schachner. Star of Austria's World Cup campaign in 1982 -- when he sported the moustache and bubble perm favoured by mid European rock Gods -- he cut his teeth in management at FC Karnten.

Named Austrian coach of the year in 2002, three years after his World Cup strike partner Hans Krankl achieved the feat with Austria Salzburg, he joined Graz the following season. He instantly guided them to the Austrian championship and when he signed a new contract as reward, club president Rudi Roth declared ``This news is like celebrating Christmas early. ''

STYLE: Graz favour a tight 4-4-2 for- mat ion and will aim to stifle Liverpool's space both at home and away.

EUROPEAN PEDIGREE: Euro-pean rookies, Graz nevertheless came close to eliminating Ajax at this stage last season. They drew 1-1 in Austria and took the Dutch giants to extra-time in Amsterdam before going down 2-1.

DANGERS: Tall and commanding Croat defender, Mario Tokic, is danger-ous at set pieces -- but the main threat comes from 27-year-old striker Roland Kollmann (pictured left). He scored 27 goals in 32 league games last season and is likely to be partnered by Alen Skoro, a man labouring under the mantle of ``the Bosnian David Beckham. '' This is down to his ability at free-kicks rather than inability from penalties.

PREDICTIONS: ``We have a 30 per cent chance of qualifying, '' coach Walter Schachner.

``We are not a sparring partner, we can put up a real fight, '' captain Anton Ehmann.

CAPTION(S):

Pics: DAVID RAWCLIFFE; MATES: Dudek watches Kirkland train
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 10, 2004
Words:318
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