The Republic’s all-time leading scorer was forced to withdraw from Brian Kerr’s squad last Friday after twisting his ankle training with Tottenham Hotspur. He missed Spurs’ season-opener, a 2-0 win over Portsmouth at the weekend.
The good news is that he should be back way before Ireland’s Sept. 7 World Cup qualifier with France.
“It’s not too serious,” Kerr said on the FAI web site on Sunday. “Robbie felt if he had another few days, he could have played but I can understand Spurs not wanting him to play.”
Kerr will, however, have at his disposal Manchester City defender Richard Dunne and midfielders Graham Kavanagh (Wigan) and Matt Holland (Charlton Athletic) who all reported to camp despite being left out of their respective club games last weekend.
Ireland and Italy clash for the first time since Ray Houghton’s first half strike at Giants Stadium 11 years ago handed the Republic its only win over the Azzurri in eight meetings.
That result also earned Ireland the distinction of being the only side to beat Italy in open play during World Cup ’94, whose final the Azzurri eventually lost on penalties to Brazil.
Italy had previously topped the Republic 2-0 in the inaugural U.S. Cup in Boston in 1992, and 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup finals, which they hosted.
In the Italians’ last trip to Dublin 20 years ago, Ireland succumbed 2-1 at Lansdowne Road on Feb. 5, 1985.
With the exception of highly rated, albeit controversial Roma forward Antonio Cassano, Italy are expected to trot out a crack side at Lansdowne today.
Alessandro Del Piero, once the glamour boy of Italian football, was called back to the squad last weekend for the first time in almost a year.
The Juventus ace will be one of coach Marcello Lippi’s options, along with Roma’s Francesco Totti, the AC Milan duo of Christian Vieri and Alberto Gilardino, Fiorentina forward Luca Toni and Udinese target man Vincenzo Iaquinta, to lead the assault on the Irish rearguard.
Zinedine Zidane and fellow come-back artists, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram, will return to action for France for the first time since coming out of retirement last week when Les Bleus take on Ivory Coast in Montpellier today.
French coach Raymond Domenech named the vastly experienced trio in a powerful squad to engage the emerging African giants and prepare for forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against the Faroe Islands in Lens on September 3 and the Dublin block buster four days later.
Patrick Vieira (Juventus), Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Sylvain Wiltord (Olympique Lyon) and Djibril Cisse (Liverpool) are the other French stars called up to warm up for the qualifiers.
Switzerland, Ireland’s final opponents in the qualifiers on Oct. 12, are away to Norway in Oslo today, ahead of their home tie against Israel on Sept. 3 that could see them vault to the top of Group 4.
The Swiss (3-0-3, 12) are a point behind Ireland with a game in hand, and should the return of Zidane and Co. give France the expected lift, they could be locked in a dogfight with the Republic for second place.
Northern Ireland could end a run of six matches in Europe without a win when they play Malta in an away friendly.
Lawrie Sanchez’s men last triumphed on the continent in March 2004, a 1-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn that snapped a two and a half-year losing streak.
Overall, the Northern Irish, who are out of contention in World Cup qualifying Group 6, posted their last victory during a Caribbean tour in June last year. They beat Trinidad and Tobago 3-0.
Minnows Cyprus and the Faroe Islands get the final round of qualifiers in the Republic’s group underway today with a bottom-of-the-table clash in Toftir. The two sides, both winless after six matches, have a point apiece from a 2-2 tie in their first meeting in Nicosia last October.
In other midweek qualifying action, Macedonia-Finland and Romania-Andorra play in Group 1; Kazakhstan host Georgia in Group 2; while Latvia-Russia and Liechtenstein-Slovakia do battle in Group 3.
A replay of the 1974 World Cup final is on tap on a day of international friendlies worldwide. Holland, edged 2-1 by the Germany ’74 hosts 31 years ago, get another chance to avenge that loss in Rotterdam. Denmark-England in Copenhagen, Austria-Scotland in Graz and Wales-Slovenia in Swansea are some of the other non-competitive games lined up.
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