Irish fans want to see Green shoots in Kazakhstan
EIGHTY-ONE days after the humiliating end to Euro 2012, Irish fans will look for the green shoots of recovery as competitive action resumes in Kazakhstan this evening.
Giovanni Trapattoni's charges kick off the World Cup 2014 qualification campaign with the same formation, but with some fresh personnel.
The 73-year-old has made five changes from the team which lost to Italy in Poznan to round off a miserable tournament experience, with four of them enforced due to retirements, injuries and suspension.
Keiren Westwood comes in for the departed Shay Given, with squad regular Darren O'Dea deputising for the injured Richard Dunne, and Jonathan Walters favoured over Kevin Doyle to partner skipper Robbie Keane up front.
Natural striker Simon Cox is given the nod ahead of James McClean to fill Damien Duff's shoes, while there is a huge sense of anticipation about James McCarthy's first competitive start.
He comes in for the banned Keith Andrews, and the idea is that the technically confident Wigan midfielder can bring poise to the engine room.
Keane paid a warm tribute to the 21-year-old yesterday, and suggested he provides Irish fans with many reasons to be optimistic about the future.
"I've been watching a lot of James on the television in his performances for Wigan and I've been very impressed by him," said the Irish skipper.
"He's very good on the ball, very clever, and he sees things quickly. Probably a second faster than most people.
"So he's a great asset for us to have."
Kazakhstan are the bottom seeds in Ireland's group, and collected just four points in their Euro 2012 qualifying endeavours.
Their coach, Miroslav Beranek, acknowledged that a draw would be an excellent result for his troops in a game that will kick off at 10pm local time (5pm Irish) on the plastic pitch at the lavish 30,000 all-seater Astana Arena.
Keane is targeting three points in order to bring the feel-good factor back.
"We can't dwell too much on what happened in the Euros," he said. "Everyone was disappointed, but this is a new campaign. We have to put what happened in Poland as far as we can behind us."