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ESPN FC's Euro 2016 awards

Euro 2016

Robbie Keane short of international elite but Irish hero's feat needs respect

When Robbie Keane takes off an Irish shirt for the last time following Wednesday's farewell friendly with Oman in Dublin, the game will say goodbye to the 17th highest scorer in international football.

The LA Galaxy striker needs one goal to go level Germany icon Gerd Muller and add to his 67 for Ireland, in what will be his 146th and final cap.

All of that sounds hugely impressive, until you consider some of the names above Keane and the great German in those records. To put it another way, there isn't that much crossover between this list and those generally considered the finest strikers of all time. While Ferenc Puskas and Pele are obviously among the latter, no-one would put Iran's Ali Daei or Thailand's Kiatisuk Senamuang ahead of Marco van Basten or Samuel Eto'o. Numbers don't necessarily add up to greatness. Just scoring more than most in international history doesn't guarantee you will actually go down in history.

It is not a coincidence that so many scorers leading the list are either those who played in strong teams in more competitively open federations, or in more prolific eras. The majority of the goals by Puskas and Hungarian teammate Sandor Kocsis, for example, came in an era when the average scoring rate at the 1954 World Cup was a whopping 5.38 per match. It was, in short, much easier for them to score in that time, and the reality is that Puskas and Kocsis are really remembered for how they played in that competition rather than how much they scored.

Similarly, fewer African international teams were as competitive when the late Godfrey Chitalu was hitting 79 for Zambia between 1968 and 1980 than when Drogba was firing in 65 for Ivory Coast from 2002 to 2014. Chitalu, who tragically died in the 1993 Zambian team air disaster, played during a period when the continent's sole representative in a World Cup, Zaire 1974, were thumped 9-0 by Yugoslavia. That kind of defeat is unthinkable now and is testament to the more exacting conditions Drogba has had to excel in.

The latter's goals have simply meant more, because of both the difficulty of the opposition and when they have come. That is how strike rates should really be measured -- by the context of the goals and their consequence.

But that is also perhaps why Keane's goals mean more than just being high on this list. As his international teammate Paul McShane tells ESPN FC, it's not like the forward was in a side that were one of the strongest in their federation. Keane never played for Ireland when they were ever more than a relatively mediocre European side.

Robbie Keane has 67 goals in 145 appearances for his country.

"For a nation like Ireland, where we weren't dominating possession in most matches or creating many chances, it makes Robbie's goals all the more impressive," McShane says.

"And people would say Robbie didn't do much in a game, but then he'd score twice. He had a knack for it, to be in the right place at the right time."

Some of Keane's critics in Ireland have said he too often scored against the right type of forgiving opposition to superficially boost his record, and 16 of his 67 goals came against minnows like Gibraltar, Faroe Islands, San Marino and Malta. He also scored in three World Cup games and four qualification playoffs, however, as well as in competitive games against Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Italy and France.

That is quite a return when you consider the size of Ireland and their history. To put his record in perspective, the country's previous highest scorer was Niall Quinn with 21. Keane has more than trebled that.

Like everyone else on the list of leading scorers, he is worthy of huge respect. Similar to many others on this list, though, Keane never did get more than 16 in a top European league.

That means he probably wasn't a truly great striker, but this was still a great feat.

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


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