Keane relishing the chance to take on England at Wembley
Ireland skipper admits meeting of two sides is a long time overdue
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane in action during a training session at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: John Walton/PA
Just over 18 years after the two teams last tried to play each other in an international game, Ireland’s rivalry with England might have dissipated to the same extent as the political tensions between the two countries or simply matured perfectly: We will know a little bit more around kick-off time at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Robbie Keane admits to being a little unsure himself but having been in Lansdowne Road for the abandoned 1995 encounter he is sure about one thing: that this has game is overdue, and hopeful about another: that a positive encounter this time will give rise to more regulars fixtures with Ireland’s old enemy.
“It means a hell of a lot,” said Keane, who only arrived in London on Tuesday morning from Los Angeles. “I was at the game when I was 14 and we all know what happened then. I was a kid in the stand and I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to play against England. It’s been a long time coming, too long really but now, finally, we’re going to get a chance to put everything that happened that night to bed.”
The trouble in Dublin that night helped, in its own small way, to change the face of football and the Irish captain is optimistic that the transformation has, despite the odd setback recently, reached the stage where games like this can take place on a regular basis.
“The Irish fans have always behaved themselves very, very well,” he said, “but we have to move on from what happened a long time ago. It’s a rivalry but hopefully it’s a good rivalry, and hopefully this time we’ll be talking about the game afterwards rather than any nonsense that might go on after the game.
“I’m delighted to get the chance to play against England but not just for me, for the whole country, I hope that it will be a rivalry for many years to come and that we can have many games against each other
“For the players this will be a special occasion, though. Not so much theirs because they’ll be used to playing at Wembley; for England or in cup finals or Champions League games. So yeah, it probably means more to us alright.”
It certainly meant enough to Keane to travel back from California but the striker admits to being a little surprised by the tone of the reporting both of his release by LA Galaxy and, more fundamentally, his own determination to be involved.
“I’ve heard this big hullabaloo about what’s been going on. They sort of made a decision without speaking to me but then I spoke with them and they realised how much it meant to me. They also realised that the week after we play in Boston on a plastic pitch, which I wouldn’t even have played in because of the type of injuries I’ve had recently, so really it’s wasn’t a problem or a big deal.”
As for his own inclination to be available every time, he added: “For me it’s fairly simple. I want to play for my country more than anything. It means as much for me now as it did when I made my debut at 18 years of age, I can never understand it when players say that that they don’t want to play for their country.”