Monday 19 February 2018

Keane backs Long to surprise Slovakia

Shane Long scores during Ireland's 3 - 2 defeat to Russia. Photo: PA
Shane Long scores during Ireland's 3 - 2 defeat to Russia. Photo: PA

Robbie Keane believes Shane Long can surprise the Slovakian defence when he takes Kevin Doyle's place in the Republic of Ireland side in Zilina tonight.

Doyle's absence with a knee injury is a major blow to the Republic's hopes of securing a crucial Euro 2012 qualifying win but Keane, who will partner Long, thinks the Reading striker has already proved he is up to the task.

Long, 23, came on as a substitute in Friday's disappointing 3-2 defeat by Russia in Dublin and scored the second goal, giving the hosts a sniff of an unlikely point.

Keane said: "Obviously Kevin's a massive, massive loss. Since he came into the set-up he's been fantastic, every game he seems to be getting better and better, but it gives Shane an opportunity to come in and stake his claim.

"When Shane came on against Russia he was fantastic, scored a goal and he was certainly a handful for the centre-halves.

"I think they were a little bit surprised with Shane because he doesn't look the tallest but he's got a great leap so in that respect he's fairly similar to Kevin."

The Republic and Slovakia find themselves in identical situations, both with six points from three games in Group B and looking to bounce back from damaging defeats.

While Giovanni Trapattoni's men were being taught a lesson in attacking football in Dublin, Slovakia were losing 3-1 to Armenia in Yerevan, and Keane believes the team which deals best with their disappointment will prevail tonight.

"They're obviously a good team and it's going to be a difficult game for us," he said.

"Both teams are coming off bad results and I think the team with the mentality and the willingness to win the game will come out on top, and hopefully that will be us.

"Slovakia and Russia are the biggest threats in the group so it's important we certainly don't lose the game."

Trapattoni is expecting the Republic to come up against a side very much in their own image, and he will certainly not underestimate Slovakia following their win in Moscow last month.

He said: "It is a different game to Russia. They (Slovakia) are a team a bit like us with an aggressive mentality and they showed that against Russia. They also can counter-attack very, very quickly."

Meanwhile, manager Vladimir Weiss was bullish about the hosts' chances despite Slovakia missing suspended Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and key striker Robert Vittek.

He said: "What we gained against Russia we lost against Armenia. That game was a loss but before that we won five matches in qualification in a row.

"We respect Ireland and I truly admire and look up to Giovanni Trapattoni. The Ireland team are a great team with a great spirit but I believe in the line-up I've chosen and I'm counting on them for tomorrow's match.

"I believe one team is going to lose and I believe it's not going to be us."

Weiss hinted he will be able to call on former Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch, who was carried off during the defeat in Yerevan but trained yesterday.

Press Association

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