Giovanni Trapattoni tonight admitted Robbie Keane’s lack of playing time for Tottenham this season is putting his Republic of Ireland place in doubt.
The 30-year-old missed a penalty with the last kick of the first half as Trapattoni’s side drew 1-1 with Slovakia in their key Euro 2012 qualifier in Zilina.
It was a vast improvement on last Friday’s performance, when Ireland lost 3-2 at home to Russia, but they finished the game wondering what might have been after their star player saw his 12-yard strike saved by Jan Mucha.
Keane has played only a bit-part role at White Hart Lane this season, and Trapattoni revealed he may consider leaving his captain out in the future, although he stressed he must handle the situation carefully.
The Italian said: “Missing penalties is not a problem. The problem is I know he is not 100% fit. He didn’t play like he can.
“I could have given him a rest, I could have changed one or two players and in the future it’s possible I could try this situation.
“He can improve his condition. He wanted to stay at Tottenham in August, and I agreed because I thought he would play.
“He has experience and is confident with the ball, although today he was missing the technique a little bit.
“The last game he scored a goal so the goalkeeper knows where he placed the last penalty. He was tired and I could have changed him. But psychologically it’s like killing him.”
Russia’s 1-0 victory over Macedonia put them top of Group B, with Ireland, Slovakia and Armenia all tied on seven points from four games.
Trapattoni, though, felt his side deserved more from tonight’s game after dominating the first half and taking the lead through Sean St Ledger, only for Jan Durica to level 36 minutes in.
“I was sure the team would show a good direction and we could win this game,” continued Trapattoni.
“We played very, very well in the first half and we could have closed the game with the penalty. We deserved to win the game.
“The second half was more balanced and both teams had the possibility to win the game. We had a great chance for Robbie but it’s a positive situation psychologically and a positive result. The performance was important.
“Before the game I was confident. I can be a little bit disappointed but we lost the game (against Russia) and we can accept this result.”
Ireland certainly began the match with purpose and a bite in midfield they had so blatantly lacked against Russia, and they deservedly took the lead 16 minutes in.
Durica fouled Shane Long out wide on the right and the Slovakia defence failed to deal with Keith Fahey’s free-kick, allowing St Ledger to squeeze the ball inside the post.
Slovakia threatened only sporadically but in the 36th minute they equalised from the first corner of the match. Captain Marek Hamsik swung over the cross, which was flicked on for Durica to power in a header at the back post.
Keane then came within inches of converting the impressive Long’s cross before the captain was handed an even better chance from the penalty spot when goalkeeper Mucha needlessly brought down Aiden McGeady.
Keane had converted a penalty against Russia but tonight he drilled his shot too close to Mucha, who was able to atone for his error.
Slovakia threatened more in the second half, with Shay Given saving well from Tomas Hubocan and substitute Tomas Oravec twice heading wide – but the Republic could still have won it had Keane kept his smart shot on the turn under the bar.
Despite the way they finished the game, Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss was happy to take a point as they banished memories of Friday’s loss to Armenia.
He said: “It was a very difficult match. From a tactical point of view, we made too many mistakes. Ireland are a tough team because they have great players playing in the Premier League.
“Some of our players didn’t play the best, so I’m happy to gain one point from the match.”