By Jay Mwamba
Roy Keane brightened Ireland’s World Cup prospects last week when he returned to action after being sidelined for three weeks with a hamstring injury.
The inspirational Irish captain came on as a late substitute for Manchester United in their 2-2 European Champions League semifinal first-leg tie with German side Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford last Wednesday.
Three days later, “Keano” was back to his commanding best as he controlled the midfield in United’s controversial 1-0 road victory over Ipswich that kept United in the English title race.
It was Keane’s chip into the box that led to the winner after Ruud Van Nistelrooy was controversially adjudged to have been fouled by a defender while in pursuit of the ball. The Dutchman converted the ensuing penalty.
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While Keane’s return is a major boost for Ireland, one of the Republic’s main rivals in Group E has lost a key midfielder. Germany’s Bayern Munich ace Mehmet Scholl ruled himself out of the finals last week because of a persistent groin injury.
Scholl’s loss is a major blow for Germany with the participation of their other star midfielder, Sebastian Deisler, in doubt because of health reasons.
Injuries during the past week also shattered the World Cup hopes of Keane’s English international clubmate at United, Gary Neville, who broke a bone in his foot against Leverkusen, and Celtic United’s Belgian center half Joos Valg’ren, who underwent a second hernia operation.
United States coach Bruce Arena became the first manager to announce his 23-man World Cup squad last week.
There were no surprises in the seasoned team, whose average age is 28.7 years. Seven of the players have been on three previous World Cup rosters and the average number of international appearances per player is 51.6.
The team is: goalkeepers — Brad Friedel (Blackburn Rovers), Kasey Keller (Tottenham Hotspur), and Tony Meola (Kansas City Wizards).
Defenders — Jeff Agoos (San Jose Earthquakes), Gregg Berhalter (Crystal Palace), Frankie Hejduk (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Llamosa (New England Revolution), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Pope (D.C. United), David Regis (FC Metz), and Tony Sanneh (FC Nnrnburg).
Midfielders — Chris Armas (Chicago Fire), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago Fire), Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Lewis (Fulham), John O’Brien (Ajax Amsterdam), Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), and Earnie Stewart (NAC Breda).
The forwards are Clint Mathis (N.Y./N.J. MetroStars), Brian McBride (Columbus Crew), Joe-Max Moore (Everton), and Josh Wolff (Chicago Fire).
The U.S. face Poland, Portugal and South Korea in Group E.
Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa has threatened to quit today unless Argentina’s FA pays him seven months of back pay.
In an interview with England’s News of the World published at the weekend, the man behind Argentina’s latest emergence as a world power, was quoted as saying: “I’m extremely angry about the situation and I am mentally exhausted. It’s dragged on far too long and the time has come to make stand. If the money has not been received by Wednesday, I’ll resign.”
The pay dispute was sparked by the recent collapse of the Argentine economy. Bielsa, who it has been reported signed a $70,000 a month salary to coach the two-time world champions, wants his wages to be paid in U.S. dollars and not the heavily devalued local currency.
Argentina, one of the favorites to life the World Cup, are drawn in Group F with England, Nigeria and Sweden.
After seemingly solving their scoring woes in the 2-0 win over Costa Rica 10 days ago, co-hosts Korea returned to firing blanks in a 0-0 tie with Group C-bound China in Incheon, Korea, last Saturday.