Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Keane concentrating on points for Republic

So much of Robbie Keane's international career has been inextricably linked with this Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Beginning with his European Championship glory as a spotty teenager eleven years ago — he missed a penalty in the dramatic shoot-out that day — Keane has often stared Kipling's twin imposters in the face on his occasional sorties to this part of the world.

Eight years ago, he toiled manfully as his then captain, Roy Keane, strode like a colossus and dragged Ireland to a belatedly convincing 4-0 success en route to his only major championship appearance.

Then, reunited with Kerr, a scruffy 1-0 victory barely concealed the sense that his Irish team was a declining force. That was a feeling reinforced so violently when he returned here three years ago, captain of a ship lurching so cataclysmically during the most ignominious evening in Irish soccer history.

This week, Keane, still captain ahead of his 28th match wearing the armband in his 92nd appearance, has been keen to stress the absence of any revenge motif in the latest chapter of this most curious rivalry.

Maybe there isn't revenge at stake, but redemption and honour are definitely at stake along with the World Cup qualification points. Tonight is a time for atonement for our captain, who seemed so utterly lost when his side capsized so dramatically here on their last visit.

“I think the players are bored of speaking about it,” he attempted to demur.

“You have to judge us over how many games we've played Cyprus and how many we've won. Most of the time we've come out on top. That was a one-off game. The last time out we beat them so for us the focus is on that rather than the game years ago.”

At this stage, his avuncular manager times an intercession.

“Four years ago, we won here, with nearly the same team and Cyprus nearly had the same team,” Giovanni Trapattoni's words tail off into the cruelly humid evening as Keane takes up the baton.

“We're not going into this game to seek revenge for something that happened a few years ago,” he bristled.

“We're going out to win a game to qualify for the World Cup regardless of who it's against.

“That game is long gone. As far as I'm concerned it's a distant memory. The focus now is to gain points to help us qualify for the World Cup. Simple as that.”

Keane was further exasperated when a local questioner persisted with the theme, musing upon the potential for old wounds to be re-opened should Ireland concede an early goal; albeit, ironically it was Ireland themselves who took the lead on that ill-fated occasion of the 5-2 reverse.

“We were behind 1-0 in games already,” he rasped. “Italy obviously springs to mind. We came back then.”

But not Cyprus.

”I think Cyprus are probably more worried about us than we are about them to be honest with you,” Keane shot back.

Case closed. At least until the local midnight hour approaches this evening.

Keane has persistently expressed the squad's burgeoning belief during this campaign, despite a lack of assuredness when leads and possession have been gifted all too easily.

Tonight will provide the severest test of the side's self-belief yet, notwithstanding the home side's apparent disarray.

“Yeah, I think so. Especially being away from home where we will have to show a lot of character,” said Keane.

“Obviously we have a lot of history with Cyprus, we've had a lot of tough games with them.

“This is a massive game for us because we have two home games to come afterwards. It would set us up if we could get a good result here.

“It's important that we get something out of the game. We go into every game trying to win it, but if we don't, we certainly can't lose the game.

“You can smell it now. Three games to go.

“A lot of the players can sense that we're very close and we have a great opportunity. There's a good few players in that dressing-room who haven't played in a World Cup.

“I was very fortunate to play in one, I'm lucky I know how great that feels.

“Our players are desperate to play in the World Cup. We're down to the nitty-gritty of stuff now.

“It's vitally important that we get points on the board in the remaining games starting with this one.”

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