Tuesday 12 December 2017

Five key talking points ahead of Ireland's crucial clash with Scotland

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

The Republic of Ireland and Scotland go head-to-head in Dublin on Saturday with three priceless Euro 2016 qualifying points up for grabs.

Here, we look at some of the main talking points in the run-up to a crucial game.

1) IS ROBBIE KEANE FIT ENOUGH TO START?

Ireland's record goalscorer remains the man most likely top put the ball into the net at the age of 34, and any addition to his 65 senior international goals against the Scots could prove decisive.

But Keane has played little football since April because of a groin injury and, although he managed 90 minutes for LA Galaxy on Saturday, it could be a gamble to throw him in from the start.

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Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane during squad training. Republic of Ireland Squad Training, Gannon Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

2) CAN AIDEN McGEADY SILENCE HIS SCOTTISH CRITICS?

Born and raised in Scotland, McGeady opted to represent the country of his heritage instead, and some Scots have never forgiven him. He found himself on the wrong end of a wave of abuse in the corresponding fixture at Celtic Park - where he had represented the Hoops with such distinction earlier in his career - back in November and he will have the crowd on his side this time and he attempts to play his part in a much-needed Irish victory.

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Ireland's Aiden McGeady could just as easily have played for Scotland

3) WHO WILL LINE UP AT THE HEART OF SCOTLAND'S DEFENCE?

Russell Martin is the certain starter, but who will he partner? Grant Hanley would have been his partner, but he is injured. Gordon Greer is relatively new to the international scene despite his age, but seems to be preferred to Christophe Berra. However, could Charlie Mulgrew get the nod? Before his hamstring tendon injury, which kept him out from December until the last two league games of the season, Mulgrew was playing in midfield, but has played at the back for Celtic and looked comfortable in defence against Qatar last week.

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Charlie Mulgrew: 'You saw against Qatar everybody fighting for their place so I’m desperate to be involved next week as much as anybody else who was out there'

4) WHO WILL BE GORDON STRACHAN'S WIDE MEN?

Strachan has options in midfield - Scotland's strongest area - but the wide men will be key. The latest to burst on to the scene is Bournemouth's Matt Ritchie, who capped a promotion season with his first goal for Scotland against Qatar in what was only his third appearance. Strachan likes the pace of Watford flier Ikechi Anya, but Shaun Maloney, if he is not playing behind the lone striker, can play coming in from the wing, as can the mobile Steven Naismith and the reliable James Morrison.

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Scotland's Ikechi Anya

5) CAN IRELAND PUT ANOTHER SOAP OPERA WEEK BEHIND THEM?

Assistant manager Roy Keane dominated the headlines before the game in Glasgow, but he has stayed - for the most part at least - out of the limelight this time around. However, confirmation of FIFA's loan to the Football Association of Ireland to head off legal action over their controversial World Cup play-off exit in 2009 and chief executive John Delaney's subsequent defence of it, coupled with the motorway collision in which O'Neill, Keane and coaches Steve Walford, Steve Guppy and Seamus McDonagh were all involved, ensured once again that much of the talk in recent days has been about anything but the match.

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This could be a defining week for the Ireland management of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane

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