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O'Neill wants more goals

Martin O'Neill has challenged his Ireland players to prove they can score even against the strongest teams.

Ireland face Italy at Craven Cottage on Saturday before meeting fellow World Cup finalists Costa Rica and Portugal in the United States next month with goals having been at a premium in recent games.

LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane, who has found the back of the net a record 62 times for his country, will join up with the party in America, but in the meantime, O'Neill is looking to the rest of the squad for much-needed firepower.

The 62-year-old manager said: "The idea for us now in these next couple of matches is to prepare as best we can. Let's take them on, let's go and create the chances, there's no reason why we shouldn't do.

"But again, putting the ball in the net is something that's been a problem here for quite some considerable time."

In the nine games O'Neill's men have played to date this season, they have scored just nine goals with Keane contributing three of them.

Five have come in O'Neill's four games at the helm, although a 3-0 victory over lowly Latvia in his first game skews that figure somewhat, and both finishing and the creation of chances have been significant points of focus in training this week.

The Ulsterman said: "We did a lot of shooting yesterday, a lot of practise at that. But I have seen this before, I have been a long, long time in the game.

"A shooting session on a Thursday afternoon where players are hitting the target on a constant basis is very, very good practice. It's a different thing when you are playing in the game.

"But we have been trying to do as much as we possibly can to rectify it.

"It's not just the shooting element, it's keeping the ball alive; it's players getting in front of opposition players when it's in the penalty area; when wide men have got the ball, taking players on; it's making sure we have got across the front post to keep things alive.

"Now the person at the front post might not score the goal, but he disturbs defenders. Those type of things are the things we have been working on."

O'Neill is making no apologies for choosing such tough opposition for Ireland's summer programme, and although he was happy with his side's performance in a 2-1 home defeat by Turkey on Sunday, he knows they will have to raise their standards once again if they are to prosper against the Brazil-bound Italians.

He said: "It's a great game at any stage of the season, but now just with Italy preparing for the World Cup, it's a great opportunity for us to play against what you would call really top-class players."

Goalkeeper David Forde is likely to return in goal with Rob Elliot, who made his debut against the Turks, having left the camp for his wedding, but striker Anthony Stokes will miss out with a calf problem.


From Belfast Telegraph