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Sep, 3, 2010

Keane: Ireland stronger than ever

Robbie Keane believes the Republic of Ireland's World Cup heartbreak has made the team stronger and more determined to qualify for Euro 2012.

• Ghosts of past spur Ireland on

Ireland were denied a trip to South Africa after Thierry Henry's infamous handball during the second leg of the play-off clash with France in November last year.

Emotions ran high at the time, with the Football Association of Ireland even petitioning FIFA for a place at the finals, but the focus now turns to Euro 2012, with Ireland starting their campaign with a trip to Armenia on Friday.

Asked if Ireland are better equipped to qualify than they were two years ago, Keane said: "Yeah, maybe, with the confidence the players in each other and the new players coming in and adapting to each other.

"With the experience we have now, of course it is only going to make you a better team. The more experience you have, the better you are and hopefully the experience we had in the last campaign will stand us in good stead for this one."

Keane knows, like several of his senior colleagues, that there may not be too many more chances for him to make it on to the big stage, as he did at the 2002 World Cup finals in the Japan/South Korea.

The prospect of wearing the armband at the finals of a major tournament is one he would value perhaps even above the honour of winning his 100th senior cap against Argentina last month.

He said: "It was great to get the 100th cap, but personally I am delighted that's gone now, just to get it over with and concentrate on the rest of the games.

"As captain, of course it would be an honour to lead your team out and we certainly have a good chance.

"We had a great chance in the last campaign - obviously, we just missed out, but hopefully that will make us stronger and more determined now to qualify."

Armenia represent the first hurdle which must be cleared if that objective is to be achieved, and captain and manager are singing from the same hymn sheet when they assess the task ahead of them.

Giovanni Trapattoni has predicted a battle at the Yerevan Republican Stadium, and while he will target victory, he has left his players in little doubt that the first objective is to come away with something.

Keane said: "The most important thing is not to lose. It's the first game and of course, you want to win every game you are involved in, and that will be the case tomorrow.

"We are not going to come here looking to get a draw. We want to win the game. But the most important thing is certainly not to lose the game."

The game will be played in intense heat - the thermometer was still reading in the high 80s at midnight on Wednesday when the Irish party arrived.

Keane said with a smile: "I don't think we Irish people can really get used to this weather. It's great for holidays, but for playing football, it's very difficult."

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