Saturday 24 February 2018

Robbie Keane: We can’t afford to lose to Sweden

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane during a press conference
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane during a press conference

Andy Hampson

REPUBLIC of Ireland captain Robbie Keane claims his team's crucial World Cup qualifier in Sweden is one they cannot afford to lose.

The Irish have played just three of their Group C fixtures but, after losing to leaders Germany, are already playing catch-up.

Giovanni Trapattoni's men are third in the group a point behind the Swedes, who in turn are three behind Germany.

Both Ireland and Sweden have a game in hand on Germany, who face Kazakhstan in a double-header over the next week, but their clash in Stockholm is being viewed by some as a battle for second.

Ireland return to Dublin to play Austria next Tuesday and Keane accepts the coming games are pivotal to the campaign.

The 32-year-old said: "These are the two most important games.

"It is vitally important by Wednesday that we have four to six points.

"Tomorrow is certainly very important. They are a point ahead of us and if we lose it is certainly going to be tough.

"It is very important we get something out of these two games."

Keane, Ireland's record scorer with 54 goals, will partner West Brom's Shane Long in attack against the Swedes at the Friends Arena, but in a more withdrawn role than usual.

The much-travelled forward, who now plays his club football with Los Angeles Galaxy, said: "I think when you are playing away from home against a strong team my role will certainly change.

"I am dropping in, making that extra midfield player, basically playing in the hole.

"It will be different than playing against the Faroe Islands, for example, when we did a straight 4-4-2.

"It might be a little bit different, giving that link between the striker and the midfield.

"But it is something I have obviously done for a long time and it is a role I am very familiar with."

Trapattoni, who named his team on the eve of the match, has opted for wingers in Robbie Brady and James McClean with attacking full-backs in Seamus Coleman and fit-again Marc Wilson.

To counter that he has opted for the midfield solidity of Paul Green in the centre of the field ahead of the more attack-minded James McCarthy.

Sweden have said they are expecting a physical encounter and Keane has promised just as much.

The former Tottenham and Liverpool striker, who will win his 123rd cap, said: "We are not here to sit back and let the Swedes run all over us. We are here to give them a game.

"I don't think there is much between the two teams. I think we are similar in the players that we have and the way we play.

"Of course they are at home and I am sure the home fans will be backing them to get a result but we are here to get a result ourselves.

"We have to roll up our sleeves and do what we do best - give 100 per cent. If we do that we will be okay."

With temperatures as low as minus nine degrees forecast, the game is set to be played under the stadium's retractable roof.

Trapattoni has expressed a preference for the roof to be left open but nobody in the Irish camp is overly concerned about the issue.

Keane said: "It will create a good atmosphere and as a player who thrives on that, it is something we are looking forward to."

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