Keane - beating best is next step
NINE YEARS and one month -- and a lot of heartache.
That's what stands in the history books between Ireland and the last win in a game of consequence against a nation of importance. The notion of Fortress Lansdowne -- which was solidly built up in the Charlton era when Spain, Portugal and the rest all suffered -- has been chipped away bit by bit.
But Robbie Keane says it's time for this Irish side to start winning the home games that matter to prove that this Ireland team is serious about qualifying for a major tournament.
Keane was one of Ireland's heroes when Mick McCarthy's side beat Louis van Gaal's much-touted Holland team in the old Lansdowne Road back in 2001, in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup.
Since then, Irish fans have seen 23 competitive home games but, when it comes to the big boys of the European game like Germany, Italy, Russia, France, Bulgaria and Switzerland, not a single win to be seen, certainly never against one of the top seeds.
That's one of the reasons why Ireland have failed to qualify for the last four tournaments but Keane believes that it's time for a win -- starting with Russia tonight -- and a new tradition, a new habit of turning draws into wins.
"It's going to be a difficult game, but with the experience that the players have from the last campaign it will stand us in good stead for this group," said Keane. "With the new stadium and everything in place, it's only a matter of time before we start playing against the teams like Russia and what have you, getting good performances.
"The important thing from the last campaign was that we didn't lose any games, so if we can keep the same mentality, turn those draws into wins, there's no reason why we can't win this game. There's always pressure to win your home games and these games over the next few days have come at the right time for us, the team are very confident and we will go into the Russia game looking for a good result to set us up for Tuesday's game in Slovakia," added Keane.
"It's important that you win your home games and don't get beaten in your away games, so it won't be an easy game for us. It will be tough but it's one that the whole team is relishing and looking forward to.
"People expect you to win at home -- I'm sure Russia were expecting to win their game at home to Slovakia -- but it wasn't to be so that shows you how strong the two teams are and with us in there as well.
"That makes three strong teams in the group. It's going to be a tough campaign but hopefully we can be the team that kicks on from here on in and gets good results.
"If you're playing against the so-called bigger teams in your group it's important certainly not to lose the game. We set ourselves out in every game to go and win every game that we're involved in and this game tonight is no different.
"This is going to be our biggest test so far as Russia are a good team, but we are at home, we have a good squad of players, we have got off to a good start so far and we want to continue that into tonight's game.
"There's no reason why we should go into this game thinking that we won't get the three points."
As a long-time resident of London, Keane has an insight into what Russia can offer with their Premier League stars. His club-mate at Tottenham, Roman Pavlyuchenko, isn't here as he's out with an injury but Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea) and Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal) are here and will start for Russia tonight.
Pavlyuchenko would not have started tonight's game for Russia as he's unable to get in ahead of the imposing figure of Stuttgart striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Keane, for selfish reasons, is glad that his fellow Spurs man is missing.
"He doesn't play on a regular basis for Russia, if he did play on a regular basis he would be a massive blow for Russia, but he seems to only come on now and again.
"But it's still a blow for them, I know what he's like as a player. He's capable of coming off the bench and scoring goals, so in that respect we're happy that he's not here," said Keane, who added that pre-match banter between the pair was minimal.
"It would be very difficult for me to chat to him about the game as he only speaks a little bit of English. He was really looking forward to the game, I saw him as we were leaving after our game last Saturday and he was looking forward to it. He was saying, 'I'll see you on Friday' so I was surprised that he was injured. But he didn't say too much about their camp and I didn't say too much about our camp," added Keane, who also has a high opinion of Arshavin -- though he also tried to play up the attacking threat of the boys in green in the face of the Arsenal forward's menace on the ball.
"He's a great player and it will be a big test for him this year in the Premier League, the second season is always more difficult," Keane said of Arshavin. "He's a top player, no doubt about that. He can play on the left, on the right or just off the big number 9 so he will be a big threat for them. He's one of their best players and someone we have to watch out for.
"But we can't go into the game worrying just about Arshavin. The Russians should be more worried about the players we have, people like (Aiden) McGeady and (Liam) Lawrence, the attacking players that we have.
"Russia certainly don't want to lose the game. It will be like a game of chess to start off with but I'm sure it will open up and with the players we have, the attacking players we have, we will make life difficult for them," added Keane.
"If you look at the manager Russia have, he's someone with a wealth of experience and a manager who wants to win every game they are involved in, so of course he will be going into this game looking to win the game, no question about that and we are aware of that."
While Arshavin bears the burden of scoring for Russia -- with 16 goals in 54 games, he's their most prolific scorer -- Keane does the same with Ireland, and as he aims for his 45th tonight, he says he's as hungry for goals as ever.
Keane stated: "I have the same attitude going into every game, regardless of what the team is. Against Andorra I want to score goals as much as I do against Russia, and that won't change.
"Of course I want to score against the big teams but as long as the team is scoring and winning, it's irrelevant who scores, as long as we get the three points on board."