BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Austria manager Franco Foda defended his decision to start David Alaba in a three-man defensive line in Sunday's 3-1 European Championship win over North Macedonia, saying the move paid off after a stellar second-half performance.
The game was poised at halftime after North Macedonia skipper Goran Pandev had cancelled out Stefan Lainer's strike but substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic scored late to give Austria their first ever win at the Euros.
The crucial breakthrough, however, came only after the versatile Alaba ventured forward and it was his cross which allowed Gregoritsch to make it 2-1 in the 78th minute.
"We've played with a back-three before. We're flexible and can play several formations, so it wasn't a risk for me. In the last couple of days we talked about the system, how we could play and I haven't seen any problems," Foda told reporters.
"David had a great performance, a good match... He has played in this position for Bayern Munich in a back-three as a centre back, so it wasn't a problem for him.
"Our intention was to add better buildup for our two attackers in the second half and David helped us on the wing. I'm very happy, he organised our defence, he talked a lot to his team mates and in the second half he helped us in attack."
Arnautovic's absence from the starting lineup was also questioned since he is the squad's leading goal scorer but Foda said the 32-year-old was benched due to fitness concerns.
"Marko was injured, he didn't train much with the team and that's why I decided to bring him on later," Foda added.
Alaba, adjudged the man of the match, said a halftime team talk did the trick.
"We sat and discussed how we had to play faster to dominate the match," Alaba said. "We had spells where we really put our foot down, looked to win the ball back when we lost it.
"You could see how hungry and willing we were to show that team spirit on the pitch.
"We dominated the first half but couldn't find the solutions... In the second half, we played with more courage, tried to be more clinical and in the end we were rewarded for our efforts."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)