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Abundance of striker possibilities give Ireland real shot at play-off win

AFTER a week of striker-based doom and gloom, Giovanni Trapattoni has emerged from a weekend of football on two continents with enough firepower to travel to Estonia in a confident frame of mind.

Still standing are Robbie Keane, Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters and while Shane Long, as was widely expected, has been ruled out of both Euro 2012 play-off games, Trapattoni will have near enough a full set when Kevin Doyle is freed from suspension to play in the second-leg at the Aviva Stadium.

Leon Best shipped a couple of knocks to his toe and knee and his situation is further complicated by the imminent arrival of his first baby.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has asked Trapattoni for a short period of grace for his striker but it is likely that he will arrive in Dublin for a fitness assessment before returning to await the new arrival.

Keane played a central role in LA Galaxy's Western Conference victory over the quaintly titled Real Salt Lake, scoring the third goal and showing no ill effects from playing in his third game in seven days.

The Irish skipper will continue his energy-sapping schedule with two games against Estonia but if Ireland qualify for Euro 2012, he will have little or no time to celebrate.



Fate

LA Galaxy meet Houston Dynamo in the MLS final in two weeks time, just five days after Ireland's Euro 2012 fate is known. That will be Keane's sixth game in a little over two weeks, a remarkable comeback for a player who was all but ruled out of action by Trapattoni a few weeks ago.

Keane will link up with the Ireland squad in the next few days before playing Estonia in Tallinn and Trapattoni, remarkably enough, has a selection dilemma. Cox or Walters to partner his skipper?

"Can I fill in up front? Definitely," said Cox. "I have played alongside Robbie before and it has worked well. Any part I can play in helping the team get to the Euros, I would be happy to play.

"We would have taken anyone in the draw, but we have to beat Estonia. And we will take what happened in Paris as inspiration to win the game, but we can't look at that.



Devastated

"I watched that game at home and I was devastated, especially with the scenes after the game as the lads were devastated on the pitch. Do we believe it's our time after that? I think so."

Such optimism is heartening given Ireland's poor record in play-offs, and while Trapattoni must plan without John O'Shea for the away leg at least, he will be confident that his key players can deliver.

With that in mind, Aiden McGeady gave a star performance for Spartak Moscow yesterday, scoring in a 1-1 draw with Dinamo Moscow to confirm fifth place in the Russian league.

Liam Lawrence, however, will play no part in either game after he was sent back to Portsmouth for treatment on a damaged ankle.


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