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Jun 7, 2013

Keane confirms legendary status

The debate over whether Robbie Keane should start for the Republic of Ireland team has been understandably postponed, because no one was prepared to steal any of his thunder on a night when he became his country's most-capped player.

It is well over a decade since the crafty Dubliner cemented his place amongst the all-time Irish greats - that goal against Germany in the 2002 World Cup did it - but by surpassing Shay Given and earning his 126th cap (as well as moving onto 59 goals), Keane truly confirmed his legendary status at international level at the Aviva Stadium.

And if that wasn't enough for the 32-year-old to celebrate, he added a hat-trick of goals to help Ireland secure a comfortable 3-0 victory over Faroe Islands and boost their chances of staying in the qualifying mix for the 2014 World Cup. Shame on those who said that Keane was past his best and couldn't produce for his country any more.

The performance that the Ireland produced was typical of what he has done so many times for Ireland. For example, take his first goal, where he ducked inside and then cleverly stepped away from his marker to be the right position to convert Aiden McGeady's cross. It was simply done, but Keane does it so well and it got Ireland going on a night when they needed to win.

Knowing that Austria and Sweden were squaring up in Vienna, Giovanni Trapattoni's team had to make the most of their home advantage against one of Group C's minnows. And that is exactly what they did, even if it was not as convincing or as fluid as many of the supporters would have liked. But, under Trapattoni, this is how Ireland are going to go about their business of qualifying for major tournaments.

When they review the DVD of this game, several positives will stand out, such as Keane's goals, Jonathan Walters' work-rate, Wes Hoolahan's productivity, and the fact that they were never put under any serious pressure. Tougher tests await, but this was all about getting the three points and it was job done in that respect despite having some minor quibbles.

If those small issues were highlighted, they would include the sloppy short passing, the failure of the full-backs to really terrorise the opposition (although Seamus Coleman did brilliantly for the second goal), and the fact that some players, like McGeady, played well, but not outstandingly. This was the type of game where the Irish players needed to exert their dominance over inferior opposition - some did, others didn't.

Let's not be too downbeat, McGeady played well, but praising him for shifting past a Faroese defender with such ease is pointless because it is the least expected of the winger. It is well known that he can jink his way into dangerous positions, but his end product has always been questionable. Too many times, his crosses are delivered with hope rather than accuracy.

However, the Spartak Moscow man did try his best and even took aim with a couple of shots. It was positive play from McGeady, but, just as he admitted to the Irish media in the build-up to this game, he has not consistently produced in a green jersey for someone who has collected 59 caps at senior level - only scoring twice. Quite simply there are better Irish wingers than the Scottish-born ace.

On the other side, Simon Cox was involved so infrequently that he could have borrowed a fluorescent waistcoat and did some crowd security such was his lack of contribution in the first half. Although, one has to feel a little sympathy considering he is a natural striker being deployed out wide - away from where he truly makes an impact.

In the central striking positions, Jon Walters excelled alongside Keane and showed that his link-up play is one of his greatest assets. Talk to players at Stoke City and they will gush about how well Walters creates space for them and sets up goalscoring opportunities, but he has largely been used as a battering ram or else a hard-working winger under Trapattoni. This was the real Walters and it was exciting to watch.

Of course, the Faroese helped Ireland to look good. Content to set up camp inside their own half, they never even got close enough to goalkeeper David Forde to be able to tell you what colour his hair was, let alone his eyes. They just didn't want to get hammered and maybe Ireland deserves a little criticism for not inflicting a heavier scoreline on their visitors.

Nevertheless, this was mission complete as they secured the win to move onto 11 points in the group. On top of that, Hoolahan produced another noteworthy display to give Trapattoni food for thought when James McCarthy returns from suspension for the Sweden and Austria double-header in September. By then, the Ireland boss should have more options to choose from in every position.

When these teams last met back in March, the talk was that Trapattoni was on the verge of being sacked. Now, he is on the verge of propelling Ireland towards another qualifying play-off. But he has a lot of work still to do with crunch games against Sweden, Austria, and Germany set to appear on the horizon soon.

Those games will come on another day, when the debate over whether Keane should start or if Walters would be better paired with Shane Long will rev up again. But this night belonged to the boy from Tallaght and he deserves all of the plaudits that fall his way.

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