Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Keane back in Macedonia frame

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

ROBBIE KEANE is on track to return for Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia on March 26 after entering the frame for West Ham's FA Cup quarter-final with Stoke tomorrow.

The Irish skipper was struck down with a calf problem last month in just his second game for the Upton Park club, and the initial prognosis was that he would be out for at least six weeks.

However, he now appears to have healed ahead of schedule, a welcome boost for Giovanni Trapattoni, who has already lost Shay Given for the Macedonia game and still has concerns over Richard Dunne.

Keane is in Avram Grant's provisional squad for the cup clash with Stoke, although it's still touch and go about whether he will be involved, particularly as the London club's immediate focus is avoiding relegation.

The 30-year-old is officially on loan at West Ham from Spurs, but a permanent switch will go through if the Hammers stay in the top flight.

There's also a positive bulletin for Trapattoni on the well-being of Keiren Westwood. He missed Coventry's Championship meeting with Hull on Tuesday, and it's unclear if he will figure against Hull City today.

Yet his manager Adrian Boothroyd suggested yesterday that Westwood is very close to recovering from a leg muscle problem. The only fear is that rushing him back into action would risk alleviating the strain just a fortnight ahead of his intended competitive debut in an Irish shirt.

Trapattoni is stuck for options in the goalkeeping department, with Joe Murphy and Brian Murphy also sidelined through injury.

Westwood was ably replaced by Michael Quirke in Doncaster's 1-1 draw with Coventry on Tuesday, and the English-born teenager has received a double boost after provisionally being drafted into Noel King's Irish U-21 squad for their friendly in Portugal on March 25.

Meanwhile, Stoke boss Tony Pulis has welcomed the news that his winger Jermaine Pennant might convert to the Irish cause. Pennant believes that he is qualified through an Irish grandfather, and has stated an intention to pursue Irish ambitions after failing to make the English senior team.

Pulis has a dislike of international friendlies, but welcomes the prospect of another Stoke player testing himself competitively at that level.

"We have a lot of players at this club playing international football now and I think it just shows the progression," Pulis said.

"A couple of years ago, if you had said there were international players playing for Stoke City, you wouldn't believe it. So if Jermaine is going to be another one, then fine, that is not a problem with me."

Stoke City v West Ham United,

Live, UTV, tomorrow, 2.0

Irish Independent

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