Doubts grow over Keane


SOCCER:ROBBIE KEANE emerged as a doubt yesterday for the game against Germany tomorrow night and may require a pain-killing injection in order to play and so spare Giovanni Trapattoni another rethink in the run-up to the game.

The Republic of Ireland skipper sat out training in Malahide yesterday after an ongoing Achilles tendon problem had been aggravated by a kick from Paul McShane the previous day. Marco Tardelli sought to play down the significance of the problem insisting that both the striker and Keith Andrews, who joined Keane in the dugout for the bulk of yesterday’s session, were fine but the LA Galaxy star didn’t seem so certain as he made his way out of the ground afterwards.

“I’ve had a problem with my Achilles for a while,” he said. “I got a kick on it yesterday (Tuesday) in training and it has swollen up. I’ve had a scan on it and I’ll see how it goes tomorrow at training. It’s a bit sore but I hope to play.”

Shane Long took Keane’s place in the training game and could well end up doing so in the match itself but Keane has something of a track record when it comes to dragging himself into battle on these occasions and Trapattoni left little doubt on Monday regarding how important it is to him to have his captain on the pitch at kick-off time tomorrow.

Keane’s recent run of goals – he has 12 in the 17 starts he has made for his club since the European Championships and also scored for Ireland from the penalty spot in Astana last month – will certainly make Trapattoni all the more anxious to have him involved although Long represents a particularly strong alternative just now given his own form for West Brom in what his supporters would presumably argue is a rather more competitive league.

Andrews, meanwhile, arrived into Dublin this week with a lingering Achilles problem of his own and asked to sit out the latter half of yesterday’s session having taken part in the section where Trapattoni again worked on reshaping the team ahead of tomorrow night’s game.

Simon Cox again looked to be the striker Trapattoni is going to play out wide from where he will be asked to provide support to Keane while Séamus Coleman took over at right-back from Stephen Kelly who had played there for the “probables” on Tuesday.

“We will decide (between them) tomorrow after the last training,” said Tardelli. “During the training we will understand if it’s better to play one or the other. They are at the same level but Kelly is more defensive, Coleman not so much and maybe we decide for one player because we think in this moment we need him more.”

Trapattoni will almost certainly name his starting line-up in Malahide at around 3pm today and assuming Keane, who Tardelli claimed was absolutely fine yesterday, does start, he will be the one Irish survivor from the last World Cup encounter between the two countries, the 2002 game at the finals in Japan where he scored a dramatic late equaliser.

The rest of the team looks set to be very much as expected with Walters losing out to Cox despite the fact that he is performing precisely the role Trapattoni requires for Stoke in the Premier League.

“I don’t mind it to be fair,” says the 29-year-old. “(Peter) Crouch has been up front on his own. Me and Michael Kightly have been playing in the wide positions but dropping in and defending; we’re playing almost as right and left-back in some games but as long as you’re playing, you don’t mind. I’m enjoying that position thoroughly.”

The system, he feels, works well for a team that has consistently punched above its weight over the last few seasons in the Premier League, something Ireland will clearly have to do if the team is somehow to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. For a start, he suggests, retaining possession is made easier, and the Irish have routinely looked as though they could use all the help they can get on that front.

“I think with the three in midfield the onus is on us to keep the ball a bit better,” he said “and dominating midfield really. That’s what we’ve done at Stoke; we’ve tended to keep the ball a lot better. And you do get a lot more chances going forward with a lot of runners looking to get behind and supporting the lone striker.

“That is the formation we end up playing (against the biggest clubs). You’re going to be defending for a lot of the game but at Stoke we press high up and so we tend to get the ball back in the opposition half. Sometimes you can get it on the edge of their 18 yard area and force them into mistakes; that’s how you can get the chances and the goals. That’s why we’ve started the season successfully with Stoke.”

The hope now, is that it will have the same effect for Ireland.

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