Ireland to do it the hard way, says Keane
Soccer - Reaction:Robbie Keane is expecting the Republic of Ireland to have to do it the hard way if they are to reach next summer’s World Cup finals in South Africa.
Keane and his team-mates looked to have given themselves a fighting chance of qualifying automatically when Sean St Ledger headed them into an 87th-minute lead over holders Italy at Croke Park last night.
But just as a delirious crowd of 70,640 dared to believe, substitute Alberto Gilardino wrenched two points from their grasp as the Italians clinched top spot and the express route to the finals.
Ireland, who ensured their place among the best eight runners-up with the 2-2 draw, will discover their opponents in a two-legged play-off when the draw is made next Monday.
But with France, Portugal, Russia and Greece looking the likely seeds, Keane knows it is going to be tough no matter who they face.
Asked who he would want, he replied: “I don’t know. Which teams are in it - France, Portugal?
“There are tough teams in there and I am sure we will get one of the toughest teams, there’s no question about that.
“We never get an easy ride, do we? No matter what, it is going to be tough.
“We will see who we get. France, Portugal, Ukraine or whoever, it’s going to be tough.
“They all have quality players in their team. No matter who we get, it is going to be difficult - but we always make it difficult for ourselves.”
Such is the belief manager Giovanni Trapattoni has instilled in his side that a second draw with the world champions felt almost like a defeat, although it was the manner in which victory was denied that cast such a pall over the Irish players.
Keane said: “Of course, that’s the reaction you have after the game.
“If it was the 60th minute or something, it’s a bit different, but the last few minutes, it’s a bit heart-breaking.
“We are in the play-offs now and everyone always expected us in the play-offs. But when you are that close, who knows?
“Italy could have drawn on Wednesday. You never know.
“To be this close, it’s obviously difficult. But we have to pick ourselves back up. It’s done now.”
Full-back Kevin Kilbane admitted Ireland have to shed their tendency to let results slip from their grasp if they are to finish the job next month.
He said: “Richard (Dunne) was saying in the dressing room after the game that we don’t want to be doing that in play-off games, when you are in front and throwing matches away.
“We have done it so often over the years, we have turned so many winning results into draws and draws into losses. We can’t continue to do it.”
Kilbane, like keeper Shay Given, stands to win his 100th senior international cap against Montenegro on Wednesday evening, but he insists there will be more than just personal pride at stake.
He said: “It’s a little bit of a sour note, but we have to go out and try to give a good performance on Wednesday because we know places are at stake now for the play-off games.”