Roy Keane is happy enough to channel Jack Charlton but not remotely interested in invoking Thierry Henry, as Ireland close in on their mouthwatering European Championship knockout clash with hosts France in Lyon this afternoon.
“I think the expectation is on France to win the game but a lot of their players are playing for big clubs so I don’t think that’s something they won’t be used to,” said the assistant manager.
“That shouldn’t be a problem for a big player. The expectation to win a football match is a nice pressure.”
“But can we take advantage of that somehow? Yeah. That’s by getting a foothold in the game. As Jack said years ago, ‘put ‘em under pressure’. I’m sure there’s a song about that, you know. Put them under pressure.
“You do that by getting a foothold, tackling, by getting the ball into the box, by getting midfield runners, by your decision making, by being physical, having good energy levels.
“All that goes into the mix. We did really well against Sweden, we couldn’t quite get those levels up against Belgium, they were back up against Italy, and the big challenge for us now is: can we get them back for France?
“That’s the challenge for any sportsperson. To keep those standards up. Fingers crossed, whatever the starting 11 will be, they can rise to the occasion, put in a good performance.
“I’ve said it before: it doesn’t guarantee you’ll win a game of football, of course it doesn’t — we could play fantastic on Sunday and miss one or two chances and lose the game.
“We were only five or 10 minutes from going out against Italy and missed some chances. If we get them again, take them.”
But whatever the Irish team achieves today, Keane is utterly dismissive of the idea that the earth-shaking consequences of Thierry Henry’s handball the last time the two countries met, in 2009, might weigh heavily — in Ireland’s favour — on referee Nicola Rizzoli’s decision-making in Lyon.
“I wouldn’t have thought so, no,” he said, speaking before the ref’s identity had been revealed by Uefa.
“I’d like to think it wouldn’t have crossed his mind. No doubt he’s a top referee and he’ll just get on with it and if there’s any decisions, he’ll be professional and do what he thinks is right.”
When it was pointed out to Keane that, in the run-up to this game, the French seem obsessed with ‘le main de Henry’, he smirked.
“I’m not French — you’re aware of that, aren’t you?
“Honestly, it’s not crossed my mind for one second. How can it have an effect on this game? Lots of different players, different managers, different competition.
“No, I know it’s probably not the answer you’re after but I don’t think it comes into it. Really don’t. It’s gone now. We’ve all been involved in sport, seen decisions right and wrong, for and against teams. I don’t think it has any relevance to this game, none whatsoever.”
Asked if he’d be happy to see Ireland win today with a handball goal, Keane declined to rise to the bait.
“We just want our players to do their best and be honest like they always are,” he replied. “It’s not in my mindset to talk about what players have done but we’ve seen it before that players have found different ways to win games of football, going back to Maradona. People talk about Henry…
“We have to trust the referee to make the decisions on the night. It’s not a conversation I’m prepared to have — we could be here all day talking about injustices that have happened in sport.
“You’ve just got to get on with it. It’s par for the course: offside decisions, balls over the line, it’s what makes it a great game. If people want to talk about something that’s gone on a few years ago, you’re talking to the wrong man. No interest in it.”
He is, however, happy to see referees generally allowing for more physicality in the games at this tournament.
“They seem to be, yeah. I’ve enjoyed that part of it. I think there has been a bit more flow to the games and teams have been a bit more physical, I think the referees have been quite good in letting the games go on and letting people make tackles.
“Tackling is a massive part of the game. We just hope that physical side of the game is allowed on Sunday and there’s not too many stop/starts.
“I’ve said it before: it’s a man’s game, you’re supposed to tackle. It’s a part of the game I love. And I think our players enjoyed that the other night.”
He also wants them to enjoy today but not, as you’d fully expect from Keane, in an ‘isn’t it great to be here’ manner.
“We will be ready,” he said, though there is now a question mark over Stephen Ward, who has an ankle knock, as well as a sense that Jon Walters, who did some possession work with the squad yesterday, still has it all to do to make the cut.
“I think we are looking forward to playing the host nation. I think the mentality is: let’s go. I think sometimes when you are playing the group games, it doesn’t suit our mentality. I said that last week. It’s a cup game. Let’s go for it.
“There will be a result one way or the other. We will leave nothing behind. I think there is that feeling. We are looking forward to it in a nice way. Not just in turning up.
“I said before we have to try and change the mentality of Irish football. Let’s not be home after a week or two. We have achieved the first part of our challenge — to get out of the group.
“Now let’s stay here for another few weeks.”
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