Category: Archive

A star is born, but . .

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

DUBLIN — First the good news. The Republic of Ireland’s solid 5-0 victory over Malta at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday keeps Mick McCarthy’s team on track to qualify for the European championship finals. Now the bad news. Robbie Keane has to undergo knee surgery.

It’s no indication of the state of Irish international soccer that suddenly the nation laments the loss of an 18-year-old who looks like he’s playing hooky from high school. No, it’s more the realization that a genuine goal-scoring talent has finally been unearthed. Belying his tender years, the precocious Keane hit Malta for two goals in the opening quarter of an hour to finish the game as a contest.

More remarkably, the young star performed his heroics with a badly twisted knee. Just before the game, he slipped in his hotel room. Keane had no initial reaction to the injury, but on Sunday he checked into the hospital for a cartilage operation.

The injury means that he will almost certainly miss Ireland’s third qualifying game against Yugoslavia, which has been rescheduled for Nov. 18.

Originally postponed because of the escalating crisis in the province of Kosovo, the match is now set to go ahead next month. However, it may yet be moved from Belgrade to a neutral venue.

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In the meantime, Keane has injected a new purpose into Ireland’s attacking play. He proved he was up to international standard in the 2-0 victory over Croatia and he set out to terrorize Malta. If the first goal was a toe-poke from close range, the second was a glorious solo effort that ended with a superb curling shot past the goalkeeper.

Jack Charlton certainly created a team with more five-star players than McCarthy has at his disposal, yet he always lacked someone who could consistently score goals. Keane’s arrival appears to have solved a longstanding problem.

Niall Quinn denied any overstatement when he said Keane was the best young player he’d ever been on a pitch with. "I can’t speak highly enough of him," he said. "At that, he’s better than anyone I’ve ever played with or against."

With Malta struggling to make any impact on the game, the Irish were able to add three more goals during the second half through Roy Keane, Quinn and Gary Breen. It was solid, rather than spectacular, stuff.

In fact, for all the home team’s dominance, there were several cracks in the performance. McCarthy’s search for quality in the center of the defense continues. In the absence of Phil Babb, the latest partnership of Kenny Cunningham and Breen didn’t look like it would stand sterner tests away to Yugoslavia and Croatia.

Equally, the midfield lineup of Roy Keane, Mark Kinsella, Jason McAteer and Damien Duff failed to spark. McCarthy bristled when he was asked what it was like to win 5-0 with so many players underperforming. Choosing not to answer the question, the manager conceded: "I’m not saying this was a great win, but in the end we got five goals and a good victory. Can’t do much more."

McCarthy knows his team will have to do a bit more against Yugoslavia, with or without Robbie Keane.

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