Friday, March 27, 2009

Keane urges Ireland to focus on Bulgaria

Ireland captain Robbie Keane has warned his team-mates not to get ahead of themselves as they look ahead to their World Cup showdown with reigning champions Italy next Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Dubliner will lead his side into their Group Eight clash with Bulgaria on Saturday evening focusing only on the three points which will maintain the pressure on Lippi's Italian team ahead of their meeting in Bari next Week.

Ireland and the Italians are locked together on 10 points at the top of the table, separated only by the holders' superior goal difference, and a win for either next week could play a major role in deciding which of them qualifies automatically for the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010.

However, while Keane cannot wait to go into battle with the group favourites in a test of just how far Ireland have come under Giovanni Trapattoni, he knows the three points at stake at Croke Park tomorrow are equally, if not more important.

He said: "Of course, it's a big test, but we need to get over the first hurdle first against Bulgaria.

"That is what we are concentrating and focusing on, and then we will focus on Italy.

"Of course, it is going to be a tough game. They are champions and it's going to be a tough game, but these are the games as a player you want to be involved in.

"You want to play against the best teams and the best players, and Italy certainly have them.

"That's something we are looking forward to - after the Bulgaria game."

That same message has been drummed home by Italian Trapattoni, who will send his team out, as he always does, with the intention of winning, but under orders not to return empty-handed.

He continued: "We have to do everything possible to win. How we play is not important; the result is important.

"We will look to win, but it will be important not to lose because on Wednesday in Italy, we will have another very, very great game."

Ireland have put themselves in an great position to secure at least a play-off spot with a run of three victories and a draw in their first four games, and another win would send them into successive trips to Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus brimming with confidence.

Keane said: "Belief comes with results. When you are winning games, that brings belief into the squad and the belief we can go on and win games no matter who we are playing against, and you have seen that over the last four games.

"As long as we believe, no matter who we are playing against, we can go out there and get the three points and win the game, that's all that matters.

"Certainly in this campaign, the belief has come through winning games."

The depth of Trapattoni's Ireland squad will be severely tested over the next few days with influential midfielder Damien Duff back in Newcastle recovering from a hamstring injury, and Aiden McGeady still touch and go with a badly-bruised foot.

Reading winger Stephen Hunt will replace Duff, while Wolves striker Andy Keogh is on stand-by if McGeady does not make it.

Sunderland's Paul McShane seems likely to resume at right-back in place of Stephen Kelly, although Trapattoni is yet to reveal his final decision.

But while his side will be presented with a series of fresh challenges, there is no doubting the desire and commitment within the squad to capitalise on a promising start to the campaign.

Keane has repeatedly spoken of his failure to understand the ongoing club v country debate, and admitted the experiences of he and many of his team-mates have simply increased their patriotism.

He said: "Maybe so, because you have to go away at a younger age and go away to England.

"When you leave Ireland and you are in England, you become even more so because you miss your home and you miss the people, and that hurts.

"I would probably say so - but I am sure other countries would question that.

"It's a massive honour. You ask any player in our squad, or any player in any other's country's squad how important it is to play for your country."

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