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San Marino scare gives Keane food for thought

Robbie Keane has raised the spectre of Ireland's close shave against San Marino ahead of Friday's clash with minnows Gibraltar  
Brendan Crossan in Faro

Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D: Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland 
(Friday, Estadio Algarve, 7.45pm, live on RTÉ2 & Sky Sports 1)

ROBBIE KEANE delivered a timely reminder of that sorry night in San Marino in 2007 when the Irish needed a last-gasp winner from Stephen Ireland to save their blushes. 

It’s at times like these when the Irish encounter no-hopers, such as Gibraltar in Faro on Friday, that the San Marino parable is solemnly told. It was just one of many disastrous nights under the ill-fated stewardship of Steve Staunton. 

However, the prospect of Gibraltar assuming metaphoric status in Irish football is decidedly remote. The stats, at least, are all in the Republic’s favour. 

Ireland’s hosts on Friday have conceded 34 goals and mustered just one goal. There might be early resistance in the Algarve, and while they are unlikely to eclipse their 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar in Dublin last October, the Irish should take care of business. But the re-telling of ‘San Marino’ did no harm at Thursday's pre-match press conference.  

“People always ask questions about playing against so-called teams that you should be beating,” said Keane, who turned 35 in July. 

“That San Marino game was one of the worst performances in a long, long time. In the end we managed to get the three points through a last-minute goal from Stephen Ireland. So that’s why I’m always cautious when we’re playing these teams. You have to be respectful of them, treat it like any other game.

“To be fair, the management and all of the coaching staff have reminded the players. Every game is always difficult. In the cups in England there are always upsets so we have to make sure it’s not us. 

“We have to approach the game in a positive way from the very start and make sure we get the three points and be wary of a team that can counter-attack and can cause us a few problems.”

Keane has happy memories of that 7-0 drubbing they administered to Gibraltar 11 months ago, scoring a hat-trick in a record-breaking 18 minutes. Undoubtedly, the Republic players will know the outcome of this evening’s earlier game between Georgia and Scotland in Tbilisi. 

The Georgians have been a major disappointment in this campaign, with their only success coming against whipping boys Gibraltar. Still, the Irish players will be hoping the Georgians can deny the Scots victory to put them back in the qualification frame, while Germany are expected to assume top spot by beating Poland in the other Group D game.

“I’d like to think we’ll approach this game the same way, regardless of the Georgia-Scotland game, whether we know the result or not,” said Keane. 

“I’d be disappointed if we approached the game a different way because we knew the Scotland result [before Ireland’s game against Gibraltar kicks-off]. We’ll be focussing on the job at hand.”

Scorer of 65 international goals, Keane will win his 141st in Portugal tonight and is probably the fittest he’s been during Martin O’Neill’s reign. Injury or a lack of match fitness has curtailed the LA Galaxy star’s influence in this stuttering campaign, but the veteran striker is now flying fit ahead of tonight’s must-win clash. 

“Obviously the last game [against Scotland], I was out for two months which is the longest I’ve ever been out, so physically I wasn’t right for it [he was a 73rd minute substitute].

“I wasn’t fully fit, but I’ve had a good few months since then, I’ve been fully fit and personally it’s been going very, very well.”

The captain added: “I want to win every game that I’m involved in. I certainly won’t be retiring before October. So I’ll be fully focussed over the next few weeks and these four games.”

The Irish players cancelled a round of golf earlier this week as more time was given over to video analysis of this evening’s opponents. Asked about the camp’s business-like attitude and the decision to cancel golf, Keane said: “We’re not here to play golf. We’re here to play football matches, to win football matches.” 

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