Euro 2012 Players to Watch: Robbie Keane of Republic of Ireland
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The Republic of Ireland's last appearance at a major international tournament was in the 2002 World Cup, when they progressed to the last 16. Spain needed penalties to knock them out. Then, as now, Robbie Keane was pivotal to their hopes of progression.
Keane has had a memorable 10 years since in individual terms, becoming his country's all-time leading scorer (as well as enjoying several years as one of the English Premier League's best forwards). But until last year, qualification for the World Cup or the European Championships had alluded the Irishman.
With the chance to shine once more on one of world football's biggest stages, both Keane and his countrymen will be looking to make up for lost time.
Keane in Numbers
Robbie Keane was born in Tallaght, Dublin on 8 July 1980.
As of writing, prior to beginning preparations for Euro 2012, Keane has represented his country on 115 occasions and has scored 53 times.
That is a goal-scoring record comparable with the best at the international level and one that long ago outstripped the previous Irish leading scorer Niall Quinn (21 goals). In addition, only current international teammate Shay Given has played more times than Keane, and he has been playing for Ireland two years longer.
Keane's only appearance at a major international tournament came at the 2002 World Cup, where he scored three times (and once in the penalty shootout loss to Spain). Two of those goals were among the most memorable in Irish football history.
In their Group E match with Germany, Keane ran onto a flick-on by strike partner Quinn to score an equaliser two minutes into stoppage time that proved vital in the Republic's progression into the next stage. It would be the only goal the Germans would concede until the final.
Keane's late heroics continued against Spain in the next round, where a 90th-minute penalty took the game into extra time before Ireland eventually lost out on penalties.
At club level, the 31-year-old has scored over 150 goals in spells at 10 clubs. His best tally was at Tottenham Hotspur, where he played for almost 10 years in two different spells.
The first between 2002 and 2008 was his most successful. In that time, he was a major part of Spurs' best team in over a decade that finished fifth in the Premier League twice (2005/06 and 2006/07) and won the League Cup in 2008.
Just under two months before that Wembley success, Keane scored his 100th goal for the club in a 2-0 home win against Sunderland. He finished up at Spurs with 122, leaving him ninth on their all-time scorers' list.
What to Expect from Keane at Euro 2012
Keane's transfer to the Los Angeles Galaxy last August came at a good time for the Dublin man. After a difficult second spell at Tottenham had petered out, the move to Major League Soccer rejuvenated the striker who was clearly glad to be wanted again.
He responded with three goals and two assists, playing his part in the Galaxy's first MLS Cup success of the David Beckham era (their third altogether). That form extended to the international scene too. Keane scored twice in the 4-0 first-leg qualifier playoff victory over Estonia last November.
Despite recent concerns over a hamstring strain, Republic manager Giovanni Trapattoni will have been pleased with the continued form of one of his best and most experienced campaigners.
The Galaxy's 2012 season has been a frustrating one thus far—with them laying at the bottom of the Western Conference (as of May 21st)—but as far as the Ireland coaching staff will be concerned, they will be pleased to see their captain playing games and scoring goals.
His loan spell with Aston Villa this past January saw Keane revelling in the freedom granted him there, grabbing three goals in that time. Whilst he will be charged with a more disciplined role at Euro 2012, it was a timely reminder to European audiences of his ability to turn it on in spectacular fashion.
Keane will need to summon this quality and replicate his star turn from 2002 should his team hope to progress from a difficult Group C that sees them come up against Croatia, Spain and Italy (in that order).
But Keane also knows hard work will be the order of the day too, and in keeping with his role in the Irish team since Trapattoni became manager, he will have to assume responsibilities beyond just scoring goals.
This will include contributing on the defensive side of things, especially if he is partnered with the more forward-minded Shane Long upfront.
Keane, though, is no stranger to such a shift. As a leader of this team, he will happily play his part in whatever Trapattoni has in mind, knowing how far the Italian has taken them thus far.
What They Say About Keane
Speaking about his captain following concerns over a recent hamstring injury, Trapattoni is well aware of how crucial Keane is to his team's hopes:
"Robbie for us is important. I think we have enough time for him to recover. We have three or four options, also important options, but obviously Robbie is our captain, our opponents have respect for him and he's experienced. He's important."
L.A. Galaxy boss Bruce Arena also values the Irishman and was delighted to welcome him to the club last August, telling their official website:
“Robbie Keane will be a great addition to our club. I have followed his career and have always respected his ability as a competitor and a goalscorer."
Keane has come a long way from his aspirations as a kid in Tallaght to become a professional footballer. So far in fact that early in May he was part of the Galaxy side that visited the White House and was one of those singled out by President Barack Obama for comment.
Making light of his Irish connections, the President jokingly described Keane as a "cousin of mine." He went on:
"Robbie arrived halfway through last season, scored his first goal in the first 21 minutes of his first game.
"His teammates were so happy to have him they filled his locker with what they call the pleasures of Ireland, Guinness, Baileys and Irish Spring. Hopefully Robbie has broadened their horizons a little bit since then."
Success with the Republic of Ireland won't earn Keane another trip to the White House, but should they get out of the difficult group stage facing them at Euro 2012, that will be reward enough in itself.
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