Ireland hope veteran duo will be fit
Marco Tardelli is convinced Republic of Ireland stalwarts Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne will be able to lead the fight for precious Euro 2012 qualifying points against Macedonia.
Keane, currently on loan at West Ham, has managed only a few minutes of competitive football for his club since shaking off a calf injury, while Dunne has been missing from the Aston Villa side for the last three weeks with a shoulder problem.
However, both men trained in Malahide on Wednesday under the watchful gaze of manager Giovanni Trapattoni and his assistant Tardelli, and the Italian duo are increasingly confident that both will be ready to go into battle for their country at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
Trapattoni said yesterday Keane, Ireland's all-time leading goalscorer with 45, would be able to play for an hour, but Tardelli was even more optimistic today when asked about the 30-year-old's prospects.
He said: "For me, the whole match. Robbie looked very well in training and also I saw the match against Stoke, when he played 20 minutes.
"But now he has improved and he is ready for us."
Just how Keane's general fitness equates to the match fitness he will need against the Macedonians remains to be seen, with that brief FA Cup quarter-final cameo against Stoke his only action since February 6.
However, his talismanic status means Trapattoni is happy to entrust him with the task of leading his team from the front for as long as he can alongside Kevin Doyle, with the likes of Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Leon Best waiting in the wings.
Dunne's presence at the back could prove equally important, particularly in the absence of goalkeeper Shay Given and full-back John O'Shea through injury.
Trapattoni is already mulling over his defensive options with Kevin Foley in the running to take over from O'Shea, although with Ciaran Clark also competing with old head Kevin Kilbane for the left-back berth, he needs all the experience he can get.
The fact that Dunne was able to train today after flying into Dublin last night following further physio at Villa came as a major boost, particularly with first-choice central defensive partner Sean St Ledger sitting out as a precaution after picking up a knock to his knee yesterday.
Asked if Dunne, 31, is 100% fit and will play, Tardelli said: "Richard Dunne arrived last night and today has trained very well. I think his problem is finished. He is fit."
Seamus Coleman and Leon Best were also able to train after sitting out yesterday will ankle problems, while Darron Gibson joined them following his late arrival because of a toe injury, although Damien Duff sat out once again with an inflamed Achilles tendon.
The Republic are second in Group B with seven points from four matches and well aware that back-to-back qualifiers against Macedonia - they travel to Skopje in June - could be hugely significant.
Tardelli said: "We have to try to win the match. It is very important to win this match because we have the same points in the table [as Armenia and Slovakia].
"We try to win the match always, but sometimes it is possible and sometimes not.
"I have seen many DVDs and Macedonia play with 10 players near the penalty box. They play very well. They have very important players and I think it will be a very tough match."
Inter Milan striker Goran Pandev could be the major threat and Ireland's Italian contingent need no reminding of his prowess.
Tardelli said: "Pandev is very clever. He plays very well and he is very important for his team-mates."