IRELAND manager Giovanni Trapattoni says skipper Robbie Keane is not an automatic pick for next month's crucial World Cup qualifier in Sweden.
Prior to Wednesday night's 2-0 win over Poland, the Irish boss appeared to confirm that the Tallaght man would be selected for Stockholm if he was available.
However, the Italian said yesterday that he didn't understand the original question when it was put to him and indicated that he would have to think carefully about the identity of his front men.
His observation ties in with comments the 73-year-old made last month which cast doubt on his captain's standing for this particular test.
It would be a huge surprise if the country's record goalscorer started on the bench, but Trapattoni believes he needs a physical option up front to challenge the Swedish rearguard, suggesting that either Jonathan Walters or the unproven Conor Sammon could fill that role.
Wes Hoolahan made a huge impact coming on against Poland, though it seems he will be confined again to a substitute's role, with the manager repeating his determination to stick with a 4-4-2.
"I don't say this," said Trapattoni, when it was put to him that he had guaranteed Keane's involvement. "I say that 'Sure, he comes into the squad', but I didn't understand the question. We have to decide.
"Long and Sammon (Wednesday's pairing) is a good option because we think also that Long can be fast against Sweden.
"We think also about Robbie. As a striker with experience, he continues to score in USA. I know you would love to have a nice clear line, but it's not as simple as that. There are too many variables.
"We can also put Long near the line. We have other options. With forwards like Long or (Simon) Cox, they can play comfortably out on the wings.
"But we need physicality. We have Walters and Sammon, who give us physical support and hold the ball up to bring the rest of the players in."