Belfast Telegraph

Keane knows Republic need ruthless touch

By Daniel McDonnell

Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane is convinced there is another twist to come as the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign reaches the point of no return.

Ireland head into tonight's Group B clash with minnows Andorra knowing a maximum haul from that game and Tuesday night's visit of Armenia to the Aviva Stadium will guarantee them a play-off place at worst.

However, should Slovakia beat leaders Russia in Zilina tonight, six points would send Giovanni Trapattoni's men to next summer's finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Keane said: “These two games are huge and we have come into them desperate to get the six points to guarantee the play-off.

“But I still think there is a twist here somewhere along the line — and I hope it's not for us. Hopefully, Slovakia can do us a favour.

“We need to concentrate on our own job, focus on getting three points and getting ourselves out of here and looking forward to Tuesday's game.

“At the start of the campaign, this is what you play for, to be in positions like this.

“Before the campaign, a lot of people would have probably accepted this, but there is still a little twist, I think.”

The shoot-out in Slovakia kicks off before the Republic get under way in the Pyrenees, and while Keane knows avoiding news of what is going on in Zilina may prove difficult, he insists his team cannot allow it to distract them.

Keane said: “Eventually we will find out somehow, but it's important that we focus on what we are doing rather than looking at Slovakia and Russia.

“I am sure somewhere along the line, someone will say something to us, but it's important that the players focus on our own job at hand because by no means is this going to be a walk-over.

“It's going to be a tough game with the conditions and what have you, so we need to be totally 100 per cent focused on exactly what we have to do. That's the most important thing.”

Those conditions involve playing on a tight, uneven pitch at 1100m above sea level in front of a crowd which is expected to total only around 800.

Keane has recent experience of playing at altitude with LA Galaxy, but he is adamant that both that and the state of the pitch are largely irrelevant.

He said: “We played a Mexican team and it was quite high altitude.

“In the first 15 minutes of the warm-up, the fitness coaches were telling us to make sure we got a good sweat on first and try to get past that stage where you are breathing quite heavily.

“I haven't seen the pitch yet, but apparently it's not too good, so you are not going to be popping the ball about like Barcelona. It's important to play to our strengths and play to how the pitch is.

“For us, it is just about getting three points and getting out of here.

“It's very important that we keep focused and defend well. If we score in the first minute or whether it's the 80th minute, it doesn't really matter as long as we come out of here with a win.”

Ireland arrived in Andorra looking for an eighth successive clean sheet, although tonight's game is likely to unfold very differently to the 90 minutes in Russia which ended in a hard-fought 0-0 draw.

Keane said: “We didn't play particularly well in Russia — we got battered, let's be totally honest.

“But the most important thing is we got a point out there, and that could be crucial.”

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