Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Robbie Must Light the Fuse If Ireland Are to Reach the Finals; Ireland Captain Will Have to Provide the Inspiration Tonight as His Side Bid to Overturn a 1-0 Deficit against France and Qualify for the World Cup. by Tom Collomosse

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Robbie Must Light the Fuse If Ireland Are to Reach the Finals; Ireland Captain Will Have to Provide the Inspiration Tonight as His Side Bid to Overturn a 1-0 Deficit against France and Qualify for the World Cup. by Tom Collomosse

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Collomosse

IF IRELAND are to qualify for the World Cup by beating France in one of the most daunting stadia in football, their captain Robbie Keane must be as effective off the pitch as he usually is on it.

Tottenham striker Keane has scored 40 goals in 94 matches since his international debut in March 1998 and is one of only five members of Ireland's last World Cup campaign seven years ago likely to be involved at the Stade de France tonight.

It is important for Keane to knock France's defenders out of their stride. Yet his spiky, sparky presence in the dressing room is even more crucial to the prospects of Giovanni Trapattoni's side, who approach the second leg of the play-off with the odds against them after losing 1-0 in Dublin.

Keane has still to rediscover his best form since rejoining Spurs following an unhappy six-month spell at Liverpool but a glance at the team's results after he returned to White Hart Lane illustrate the impact he has made.

Of the 28 matches the striker has played following his second 'debut' in a 0-0 draw with Arsenal on 8 February, Tottenham have won 17, drawn four and lost seven.

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp knew that Keane's chirpy demeanour would gee up a quiet squad and he is confident the 29-year-old skipper will have the same impact on the Irish tonight.

"You need players with character; it's not just about what happens on the pitch," Redknapp said. "Robbie has scored his goals but he has also been very influential.

"He has been great around the place. You need people like him, bubbly characters with the personality to bring something extra. He will be very important for Ireland and he will genuinely believe they can win. France are the favourites but I wouldn't rule Ireland out, even though it is a very tough game for them. I can certainly see them nicking a goal tonight."

Lassana Diarra, whom Redknapp signed for Portsmouth before selling him to Real Madrid for [pounds sterling]20million last January, should retain his starting place in Paris, with Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka, Arsenal duo Bacary Sagna and William Gallas and Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra also likely to be in the XI. …

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