Keane still key as milestone approaches
Not every talented youngster gets to fulfil their potential and transform into the truly great player that many had expected of them. But Robbie Keane was always that little bit special and nothing was going to hold him back.
Against Faroe Islands, Keane will become Republic of Ireland's most-capped senior player as he eclipses Shay Given to make his 126th appearance. And he is still an important figure for his country – not just as captain, but also as chief goal-getter. Keane is now on an incredible 56 international goals, 35 ahead of the nation's second-leading scorer, Niall Quinn.
Whether the 32-year-old should start against the top nations is debatable, but when Ireland take on relative minnows, like the Faroes, Keane is still the man to turn to. He is as hungry as ever to score goals – as evidenced by his brace in the friendly win over Georgia – and he has always possessed a very sharp footballing brain, which allows him to outwit opponents not on his level.
For the first time in such a long time, Ireland is pretty spoilt for choice in most areas of the pitch. In fact, there is so much competition for places in the current squad that there has hardly been a mention made of Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark, Everton midfielder Darron Gibson, Birmingham City's Keith Fahey and Wolves striker Kevin Doyle, who are not involved due to either injury or self-imposed international exile.
Rather than the focus being on Giovanni Trapattoni's ability to fall out with players, it is simply on Ireland getting the three points needed to boost their chances of sealing second place in Group C behind Germany and staying on course for a play-off spot for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Despite this game arriving at the end of a tiring club campaign, the Irish players are determined to get the job done in Dublin on Friday night. They have taken a lot of confidence from the 1-1 draw with England at Wembley and the 4-0 thrashing of Georgia; now it's time to collect a much-needed World Cup qualifying win.
"England was very important, but the big match is Ireland v the Faroes as it's a match to qualify for Brazil. We need to forget about the matches against England and Georgia and focus on this match," Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli said ahead of the game. "We want to play the same [as we did against Georgia], but we have different opponents. Against the Faroes, we need to take the ball and play the ball – we need players with this quality."
When they last played against the Faroes, Ireland cruised to a 4-1 victory with Wigan midfielder James McCarthy effortlessly pulling the strings, but he is suspended for this game. His absence opens the door of opportunity to Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan, who impressed in his first international start in last Sunday's stroll against Georgia.
Even though Hoolahan may be asked to operate in the unfamiliar position of central midfield, he is more than capable of excelling there against teams like Georgia and the Faroes, where his passing and movement will be too much for them to handle. With McCarthy missing, the playmaking ability of Hoolahan is more important than ever and he could just terrorise the Faroes at Aviva Stadium.
There are still some question marks in defence, where Richard Dunne and Marc Wilson have been struggling with injuries, but there is adequate cover available for a game that Ireland should have few problems in winning. And with Austria hosting Switzerland on the same night, it is vital that Ireland do win knowing that their main rivals for group runners-up will take advantage of any slip up.
Under Trapattoni's watch, Ireland have never lost to the two bottom-seeded teams in their qualifying groups, but there have been quite a few wobbles, such as the narrow 1-0 win away to Armenia – who were a lot better than their FIFA ranking suggested. So this should be relatively straightforward and see Ireland move onto 11 points in Group C.
Don't be surprised if Keane turns out to be the most effective player on the pitch on Friday. The former Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool striker may be in the twilight years of his career, but he is still a real threat against vulnerable backlines. Some may dismiss his value considering that he plays in the MLS with LA Galaxy, although that league is not as weak as it is often ignorantly suggested in the UK and Irish media.
Keane still has a lot to offer and he has a superb record of delivering for Ireland. Set to become his country's most experienced player, he is showing no signs of slowing down just yet – which is bad news for the Faroes.