ROBBIE KEANE has emerged as a major doubt for Ireland's crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia next month.
The Ireland captain has been ruled out of action for six weeks as a result of the torn calf muscle he suffered when playing for West Ham against Birmingham on Sunday.
He was withdrawn from the Ireland squad for Tuesday's Carling Nations Cup win over Wales and it was apparent to the club's medical staff that the injury looked serious. The striker, who has endured a frustrating season, had his worst fears confirmed yesterday.
The six-week window expires just days before the visit of Macedonia to the Aviva Stadium on March 26 and could leave Giovanni Trapattoni without his skipper.
Although Kevin Doyle, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long did well in Keane's absence on Tuesday night, it'd be a huge setback for the Italian to go into such a crucial match without his key man.
Ireland are currently second, level on points with Armenia and Slovakia behind leaders Russia, in a tightly contested Group B in their race to qualify for Euro 2012.
The injury is a massive blow to Keane who moved to Upton Park on loan for the rest of the season in order to play first-team football. The defeat to Birmingham was just Keane's second appearance for the club after he scored on his debut in a 3-1 win over Blackpool.
Keane was signed by Avram Grant as a key part of his plan to avoid relegation and, should they achieve their goal, the Tallaght native will automatically become a £6m permanent signing.