Thursday 17 August 2017

Robbie Keane hoping for a quick-fire start to get Lansdowne crowd in full voice

Robbie Keane: wants Ireland to go for it from the kick-off
Robbie Keane: wants Ireland to go for it from the kick-off

Tom Rooney

Captain Robbie Keane has urged the Republic of Ireland players to harness home support by making the strongest start possible in tonight's vital Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.

With Friday's victory over Gibraltar, and Georgia's surprise defeat of Scotland, Ireland moved into third place in Group D and are now in prime position to progress to the play-offs.

However, to extend their slender point advantage over the Scots, they must first better Georgia, who have proven a well-drilled defensive unit, and impressively kept Gordon Strachan's team at bay as they recorded just their second victory of the campaign.

Acknowledging that Ireland have been slow out of the blocks as of late, Keane said that particular trend must be bucked so as to quash any new-found confidence in the visitors' ranks and compel the home support to do their part.

"When you're playing at home, I think it's always important in that first 10 to 15 minutes, that you get the crowd behind you, and start off with a good tempo," he said.

"We've always tried to do that in our home games. As we know, if the crowd gets going and the players give them something to shout about, it'll certainly give the players a lift, and hopefully that'll be the case.

"They've always been difficult games; they're a difficult team to break down, as we saw against Scotland. But we're ready and, as I said, the confidence is fairly high in the camp and hopefully we can take in the performance from Friday night."

Like Martin O'Neill, Keane maintained that the Irish players had not lost hope of qualifying for France next summer, even after consecutive disappointing draws with Poland and Scotland, but also admitted that Valeri Kazaishvili's winner for Georgia against Scotland was a welcome boost.

"We had a great result and obviously the Georgia result went for us. It's up to us now to make sure we get a big result.

"It's amazing what a few days can do for players' confidence. You come in and look forward to playing these games, then you get a good result and results go for you, and the confidence goes from there to there."

The LA Galaxy striker was hesitant to give a clear-cut answer when asked if tonight's encounter was the most significant of O'Neill's tenure, though clearly recognised its gravity.

A repeat of last September's victory over the Georgians, combined with a German win at Hampden Park, would see Ireland move four points clear of fourth placed Scotland with two games to play. Such a cushion would make the world champions' October visit to Dublin far less daunting.

"It's a massive, massive game. All we can do is prepare right for it, and since the first day we walked in through this door, the players have been ready.

"It's always a difficult game when you're playing against a so-called team you should beat, like on Friday night. We did a great job with that, and now we have to be focused on tonight," he added.

Keane was reinstated as first-choice striker for the win in Faro after O'Neill opted for Daryl Murphy against Scotland, and he responded by netting a brace which took his international goal tally to 67, just one behind German legend Gerd Muller.

He was quick to point out that collective success fair outweighs any personal milestones and, above all else, that he was content to still be playing for Ireland, be that as a starter or from the bench.

"At the end of the day, it's the manager's decision. I'm here to help the team, whether I play or come off the bench. I'm not naive to think at this certain age there are games I'm not going to play and there are games I will play.

"For me, the most important thing is the team. It's not about Robbie Keane, individual awards or scoring goals; it's the team qualifying for the Euros.

"If I can be a part of this team in any way possible, whether it's starting or on the bench, I'm fairly happy with that."

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