Tuesday 17 October 2017

Keane happy to play as lone ranger

IN a city where striking action once helped down a communist regime, a lone striker will stand alone this evening.

Twenty four hours earlier, Robbie Keane walks in alongside Giovanni Trapattoni with a bouncy step.

It is clear that neither man has been contemplating a brief, quickie divorce from an Irish team requiring desperate measures to ensure their survival in these championships.

A decade after his goal rescued potential elimination against the Germans in Ibaraki in 2002, the nation turns to him more in search for their salvation.

A nation, one might say, once more holds its breath.

Lingering

After consultation with manager Giovanni Trapattoni, Keane all but confirmed that he will be deployed as a lone striker, despite serious question marks lingering regarding his current form.

"We know what the manager is thinking," he confides.

"We've already had a chat about it and we'll speak about the situation again after training as regards certain players.

"If that is the situation, that I play as a lone striker, that's something that I've certainly done plenty of times before.

"It's obviously different to what I'm used to doing. But it's something that I enjoy doing also.

"You have to be more a player on the shoulder, try to get in behind defenders.

"If the manager does decide to do that, it's something I'll be happy to do for the team."

In essence, it seems, it was the team's fault, not to mention his strike partners, for not providing the front man with the service he requires in Poznan last Sunday.

It is the necessarily self-indulgent claim of the selfish swordsman.

Now the response requires an equally self-centred focus in front of goal; should this re-configured line-up make it towards such heady heights.

Tonight, Keane will be given that opportunity he craves, one which has proved so fruitful at club level, but one that has rarely done so in an Irish shirt, particularly under this manager's restrictive regime.

Kevin Doyle seems certain to be the unlucky loser, the unwitting fall guy, as Trapattoni gambles on Ireland's record goalscorer to produce the goods.

Keane, whose body language at last night's pre-match press conference hardly betrayed a figure at odds with his form, or in fear of the chop, has boundless confidence in his side's ability to pull off a shock result -- spearheaded by him.

Ireland's difficult post-mortem against Croatia clearly did not dissect Keane's slump in current form -- simply because the manager and captain believe that the side did not create enough chances for their marksman.

For that to change, Trapattoni's unswerving faith in his system will be sacrificed. His infallibility, so sternly undermined on Sunday night, now deposits an inordinate amount of belief that his captain can produce the goods.

"Yeah," Keane says breezily when asked to assess whether his current form is commensurate with his own high standards.

"You try to play as well as you can and do your best for the team. There's only one game gone, a couple more left. Hopefully, we can get a couple of opportunities tomorrow, or against Italy, and that I can take them.

"He's going to make certain changes according to the game. In the game the other night, we weren't getting much as a team. We weren't creating too many chances for ourselves.

"You can only score goals if you're getting opportunities. That wasn't the case the other day.

"As a group of players, we didn't do enough to create too many chances. As a player, of course you want to play every game, play 90 minutes in every game.

"But you have to look at the situation in the game and the manager was 100pc right to change it because there was nothing happening for the team.

"We needed to change things and mix it up a little bit with different personnel. That was the case."

And it will be so again this evening against the world champions, an unequal contest likened by former Irish striker Michael Robinson as "Muhammad Ali fighting a dwarf".

Keane didn't demur when withdrawn the previous night, a claim for a penalty marking his sole contribution to the evening's toil. It was entirely arguable he should have been withdrawn even earlier.

sacrificed

He would, one suspects, desist if he was the player to be sacrificed this evening.

Other strikers may have performed more regularly in this lone role this season; few have been as productive as the Irish captain.

Keane's goal record trumps all arguments.

But it needs to speak more eloquently than ever against the mighty Spanish and, by some remarkable happenstance that Ireland's hopes remain extant beyond this evening, against Italy next Monday.

Keane was not necessarily wrapping himself in the green flag when asked would he countenance the forced forfeiture of his starting berth for the benefit of the team.

Would you buy into that?

"Of course not!" It is a jokey aside typical of his relaxed, good humour.

"Nah, I'm joking. At the end of the day, the manager decides that. We obviously spoke before and we know what's going on. If the manager was to decide that, well we have to do that," he said.

"I can play in two roles, as a midfielder playing in front of Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan, or playing as a lone striker getting in behind the two defenders.

"As the manager said, we'll have a look on the training pitch and see how every player is. And the manager will decide then."

Tonight is the moment of truth. Keane's stirring speech reminds one of the eve of the Paris play-off; then, attitude trumped the system. Ireland still faltered then; most expect nothing but a repeat tonight.

"Probably everyone in this room has written the script that Spain are going to beat us. But there's certainly nobody in that Irish dressing-room going into a game believing that there's no question of winning.

"And for me, personally, as a player and a captain, there's no chance in hell that I go into a game believing that I'm going to get beaten by anybody."

Defiant, not deflated, he bounds once more for the exit.

Gargantuan leaps will now be required, from all Irishmen, to bridge the yawning gap between impossibility and reality.

Irish Independent

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