IRELAND captain John O’Shea wants his team-mates to put aside the distractions of the Roy Keane Show of this week and put their minds on the task of avoiding a third successive defeat in London tonight.
Ireland face the Italians in Craven Cottage but the issue of Keane’s imminent exit from his FAI role is more of a talking point than the XI which Martin O’Neill will select against an Italian team who will be striving to impress, as their coach Cesare Prandelli says he will pick his final 23-man squad for the World Cup finals after this game.
O’Shea, who is expected to captain the side and win his 97th senior cap, admits that it’s been difficult for the Ireland players to ignore the Keane issue, with eyes glued to Sky Sports News and twitter. The veteran defenders admits that he expects Keane to take the Celtic job so today will be the last time Ireland’s players will work with Keane in terms of the international stage, but O’Shea insists that the Italy game has to take precedence now.
“We are under no illusions, it will be a tough test against Italy. That’s why the players have stayed focused and not been distracted from what’s going as as we realise Italy are a very good team,” says O’Shea, stating that O’Neill has not told his players to ignore the Keane story.
“He hasn’t needed to. The lads are fully aware that we’ve got Italy to look forward to. It’s an important game a good test for us.”
A long servant of the Irish side, O’Shea was not on the scene when Mick McCarthy’s Ireland went on a long and painful losing streak in friendly games through the summer of 1996, but he is aware that losing to Italy tonight would make it three losses in a row for the current crop.
“Ultimately it’s not good,” he says. “Whatever team you play against, you don’t want three defeats. It’s a case of we’re going into the game wanting to win it and see where we are after.
“But if we lost the next four games but we qualify for the Euros, what’s going to happen then? It’s going to be a good test. Hopefully get us into situations and enjoy the learning curve before the real serious stuff starts,” added O’Shea, who has a sneaking feeling about Italy’s potential at the World Cup finals.
“They are going along very discreetly, no one is mentioning them but I think they will be very close to the semi-finals. I think the toughest part might be getting out of their group, England and Uruguay and Costa Rica are obviously the un-fancied of the group. If Italy can get out of their group, I think they can get to the semi-finals,” he says.
“You’re aware they are going to be fully wound up. They are playing for places in a couple of weeks for the starting XI for the World Cup. They are going to be raring to go but we’re playing for the qualification spots and want to catch the manager’s eye.