Sport European Championships

Sunday 18 February 2018

Gordon Strachan: Robbie Keane is mentally strong enough to deal with double loss

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan during a press conference. Scotland Press Conference, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan during a press conference. Scotland Press Conference, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan says his former pupil Robbie Keane has the mental strength for the big occasions.

The participation of the Ireland captain in Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier has been plunged into doubt following the tragic death of two of his cousins in an industrial accident earlier this week.

As Coventry City manager, Strachan paid €9m to Wolves in 1999. The pair remain close, with Keane bracketing the Scot alongside Mick McCarthy as the best managers he’s worked under during his decorated career.

Asked at the pre-match press conference about the situation Keane finds himself in on the eve of such a vital match, Strachan indicated he expected Ireland’s record goalscorer to be available.

“It’s not an easy thing to talk about,” admitted the visiting boss. “I can’t speak for Robbie but sometimes I’ve seen things like this happen to footballers and they still perform.

“Robbie has not got to where he has in the game without being mentally strong. All we can do is send our sympathies to him.”

Meanwhile, Strachan revealed he has already settled on his starting team but won’t inform the players until tomorrow.

Scotland enter the game two points ahead of Ireland and aware victory would all but end the automatic qualification ambitions of their hosts.

Although a draw would preserve the buffer with four games to go, Strachan says his team won’t be playing for a draw.

“I’ve never been involved with a team that has gone out looking for a draw,” he stressed. “Certainly no team that I’ve managed has.

“A draw could turn out a good result for us but we don’t know what number of points will be needed to qualify.

“This game will be a great occasion but the main thing for us is to perform.”

Regarding the feelgood factor surrounding a team aiming to qualify Scotland for their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, Strachan was clear where it stemmed from.

“The best thing for building team spirit is not nights out or golf days – it’s celebrating wins. We’re feeling good to a certain extend but wary that can go at any time," he said.

“A lot of work has gone on off the field but the players will determine the outcome tomorrow.

“Ireland have enjoyed a terrific year too, they’ve dug out some great results, so that means we’ll have two sets of expectant supporters tomorrow.”

Strachan believes Ireland won’t be weakened should his former Celtic player Aiden McGeady fail to overcome the injury that curtailed his involvement in today’s training session.

“If I was to pick the Ireland team, all of them are Premier league players,” he pointed out. “They’re not short of good players. Ireland can lose two or three players and still put in a good performance.

“I don’t think there’s one player on either team that will affect the outcome. We don’t have world-class players like Bale, Ronaldo or Messi – someone that can cause havoc – but there’ll be two teams out there with good players aiming to win.”

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