Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keane backs Hunt to fill gap

Ireland skipper Robbie Keane is sure Stephen Hunt can plug the sizeable gap left by Damien Duff against Bulgaria on Saturday night.

The 27-year-old Reading midfielder will deputise for his injured Newcastle counterpart in the World Cup qualifier at Croke Park, desperate to build upon the impression he made against Georgia and Montenegro earlier in the campaign.

Giovanni Trapattoni has no qualms over throwing Hunt into the starting line-up in place of one of his most influential players in recent games, and that confidence extends to the rest of his players.

Keane said: "It's obviously a massive blow to us [losing Duff]. He has been fantastic over the years and especially in this campaign, and it's a big blow to us because he is a very important player.

"But it gives someone else an opportunity now to play and to do well for the team.

"Stephen Hunt will come in and I am sure he will give it his all like he always does.

"It's disappointing, but it gives someone else an opportunity."

Worryingly for Trapattoni, his other first-choice wide-man, Aiden McGeady, is also struggling with a badly-bruised foot, but the Italian has no plans to abandon the system he has adopted during his time in charge.

That could mean employing either Andy Keogh or Shane Long, both strikers by trade, out wide, but again, Keane is confident whoever is selected will do a job as Ireland attempt to maintain the pressure on Group Eight leaders Italy, who they face in Bari on Wednesday evening.

He said: "We have got players like Stephen Hunt, who is an out-and-out winger, and he does a similar job to Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff.

"And if Andy Keogh or Shane Long come in, the two of them are hard-working players who are strong and quick.

"It may be a little bit different because the two of them are strikers.

"Andy's a good player and he's having a good season with Wolves. Wolves are top of the league and he's part of that squad.

"He's played there on a few occasions before and he has done well for us. He's a hard worker, he is quick, he is good in the air and he can obviously score a goal.

"But at the end of the day, no matter who plays we have to be comfortable with whoever the manager brings in, and Andy is certainly capable of coming in and doing a good job for us."

Bulgaria have their own injury concerns, not least star striker Dimitar Berbatov's absence with an ankle problem, although Trapattoni insists there is no room for complacency.

He said: "They have other players - [Velizar] Dimitrov, [Ivelin] Popov, [Blagoy] Georgiev.

"Georgiev is one of the best players from free-kicks. Italy has [Andrea] Pirlo, but Georgiev can score a goal very quickly.

"We will have to concentrate from the first minute until the 94th minute when we will be in the dressing room."

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