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Saturday 10 December 2016

Robbie Keane guards against complacency: Remember San Marino

Captain's call

Ireland captain Robbie Keane pictured during squad training.
Ireland captain Robbie Keane pictured during squad training.

An away European Championship qualifier against one of the weakest nations in Europe, a guaranteed three points and a flood of goals

That's the backdrop for tonight's Euro 2016 game against Gibraltar here in Faro where anything less than an Irish win with a chunky return of goals will be seen as a disaster.

For some of those who were involved in a precedent of that scenario, away to San Marino in 2007, the scars of that scare are still there.

In case we forget (and really, who can?), Ireland scraped a 2-1 win over San Marino with an injury-time goal from Stephen Ireland.

Having been told by his FAI bosses to accentuate the positives, Steve Staunton stressed that it was a good win and he also opined that San Marino were a side on the way up (they would go on to lose their next 16 competitive games).

As one of the survivors of that nightmare, Robbie Keane knows that Ireland should beat Gibraltar tonight and it's a great chance for the striker to add to his tally of 65 international goals.

But 2007 is still in his mind and he has already spoken of the need for caution as travelling Irish fans - over 2,500 of them are expected in the Algarve sun this evening - hope for success to go with their Sagres.

"People always ask questions when against the teams that you so-called should be beating and that's a game I always refer to," Keane said when asked to recall that San Marino game.

"It was one of the worst performances I think we have played for a long time but in the end we managed to get the three points, a last minute goal from Stephen Ireland.

"That's why you always have to be cautious when you are playing these teams, you have to be respectful of them and treat it like any other game.

"To be fair, all week, the manager and the coaching staff have reminded the players but we we certainly don't need it, because we know that every game is always difficult.

"In the cups in England there is always an upset somewhere and we have to make sure we approach the game in a positive way from the very, very start and make sure we are ready to get the three points and be wary of a team - we have been watching videos of them all week - that is a counter-attacking team who can cause problems."

The Algarve is a holiday hotspot and many of the Irish fans in the impressive Stadio Algarve - built for the Euro 2004 finals but no longer in use on a regular basis - have come here as part of a package holiday.

The Irish players will appreciate a bit of September sun but Keane again underlined how serious they were about this task by droppiong a plan to have a game of golf in Dublin before their departure.

"We're not here to play golf, we are here to play and win football matches and I am certainly not a golfer so it's not a problem to me," smiled Keane.

Switched on

Being switched on to this task in Faro is the theme of the week from the Ireland camp, but it's hard to believe that Martin O'Neill and his players will simply ignore events in Tbilisi this evening, as the Irish squad will know the result of the Georgia-Scotland game before they kick off in Faro.

That game in Tbilisi will have a big say in whether Ireland go to France next year. Should Scotland win, Gordon Strachan's men will look to sideline Ireland in the battle for a playoff place, but if Georgia do take points off the Scots, then Ireland can dream of France 2016 again.

"I would like think we will approach it regardless of the Scotland game and whether we know the result or not, I would be disappointed if the players approached it in a different way because they knew the result of the Scotland match, we will be fully focused on the job in hand for us and I will make sure that the players will be doing that," said Keane.

Whether Keane gets to start and win h is 141st senior cap is another question, though.

Keane is playing regularly for his club, while the same can't be said for rival forwards Shane Long and Jon Walters, both reduced to bit-part roles in recent weeks, Walters due to his mooted but doomed move away from Stoke.

Keane [like the whole panel] was off his game in his last appearance for Ireland, at home to Scotland, but with his superb form in the MLS for LA Galaxy, he insists that he's at peak condition.

"In the last game, it was the first time in my career where I was out for more than four weeks, it ended up being two months and that's the longest it's even been," Keane admits. "Physically, in the last game I wasn't right, as fit as I'd like to be, playing 30 and 60 minutes before I came in.

"I certainly wasn't fully fit but I have has few good months now, I have been fully fit, the team have been doing well, personally it has been going well and I certainly feel fit and raring to go."

If he does start, Keane will lead the pre-match ritual that he implemented as captain, the Parkhead-inspired team huddle just before kick off.

Sadly, the mics don't pick up what Keane says it it would be fascinating to hear his pre-match message for a game against World Cup holder Germany and compare that to his banter when they play Gibraltar or Andorra.

"Every game you play is obviously different," Keane says.

"Different teams and different strategies that the manager would give you before the game, it's more little reminders before the game and getting lads together and making sure that everybody is ready,really, but everything is already done before that so it's just making sure that everybody is ready to go."

Three points, a healthy addition to the goal difference and a positive mood ahead of Monday's game at home to Georgia, Keane knows that nothing else will do.

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