Robbie Keane has stressed the importance of maintaining Ireland’s unbeaten run ahead of the European Championships after a week when two of the Republic’s group opponents suffered defeats.
All four Group C sides were in action on Wednesday with Italy and Croatia losing home ties to the USA and Sweden respectively, Ireland grabbing a late draw against the Czech Republic and Spain putting five past Venezuela.
Simon Cox’s 86th-minute equaliser brought to 12 the number of games in which Ireland have refused to be beaten and also builds on a hugely impressive record in pre-tournament warm-ups stretching back to the Euros in 1988. Ireland’s record in these admittedly bloodless affairs now shows 12 wins, half a dozen draws and only two defeats, the first of which was against the Czechs back in 1994 and less than a fortnight before the defeat of Italy in Giants Stadium.
“You don’t want to lose any game,” said Keane.
“We didn’t play particularly well but we didn’t lose so that has to be good for the confidence. We haven’t lost a game in a while so that has to be good for the confidence and hopefully we can continue that up to the Championships.”
Cox’s effort aside, it was an evening which failed to spark to life but the introduction of James McClean towards the end, though belated, was memorable and rewarded with a confident showing by the 19-year-old winger.
Whether he has done enough to force a way into the final squad of 23 is another thing. Giovanni Trapattoni’s utterances on the subject certainly don’t lend towards optimism on the teenager’s part but Keane isn’t writing him off just yet.
“You never know, do you? There are always surprises so who knows if he continues his form. We are fortunate that we have strong players left side and right side that are already there but it is the manager’s decision and it is going to be a tough one.”
The Irish captain spent most of the evening hovering between midfield and Shane Long who was operating as the lone forward spear and, whatever the role, it seems likely that Ireland’s attackers will be undertaking considerable defensive duties in Poland.
“I enjoyed it,” said Long. “It was tough when they had the ball. They were a good passing side and we had to adapt to their game but I thought we did well going forward. It’s very easy playing with a player of Robbie’s quality and it is nice to get a start under my belt.”
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