Keane feeling back on top form
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Robbie Keane feels he has been given a new lease of life since undergoing surgery to address his long-standing injury problems.

The 33-year-old Republic of Ireland captain will return to the international stage when Ireland face FIFA World Cup™ finalists Costa Rica in Philadelphia. He will do so having had operations on both Achilles tendons in December last year, and he admits he is feeling the benefit.

Keane said: "It couldn't have gone any better. Obviously I had the two Achilles operations done at the same time. It just gave me enough time to get back for pre-season and I had a full pre-season. I haven't missed a game since, touch wood. I wish I had it done a couple of years ago.

"It's a huge difference - not just playing but just in general, just walking about and stuff, and waking up in the morning, taking me five seconds to go to the toilet instead of 20 minutes."

Keane's decision to go under the knife could hardly have been any better timed for Republic boss Martin O'Neill, who has seen his team fail to win any of their last four friendlies with his captain absent. The Republic have scored just two goals in the process despite creating a host of chances, and Keane's return to the squad for the final two games of the campaign - they face Portugal in New Jersey on Wednesday - will come as a boost.

The LA Galaxy frontman has a remarkable record for his country - his 131 senior appearances to date have yielded 62 goals - and established himself as the main threat, a burden he insists he is happy to shoulder.

Keane said: "Well, it's the same pressure as I've had since I was 17, so that will never change. I'm going to put pressure on myself more than probably you guys do.

"My job is to score goals and it doesn't matter if I score goals or if it's Longy [Shane Long] or Wes [Hoolahan] or whoever it is among the other strikers, the important thing is winning games. And certainly if we can score more goals than the opposition, then we have a good chance."

O'Neill admits places are up for grabs
O'Neill will make changes for the Costa Rica game which will see the Irish, now ranked 70th in the world by FIFA, take on a side currently 42 places better off.

The absence of John O'Shea, Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, Damien Delaney and Stephen Ward and strikers Jon Walters, Anthony Stokes, Conor Sammon and Daryl Murphy means there will be chances for other players to stake a claim, and the manager admits there are places still up for grabs in his team to face Georgia in the opening UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier in September.

O'Neill said: "There are plenty of places up for grabs so of course every performance matters, and I think that's the way the players are addressing it too. This is an opportunity for them to play against very, very decent opposition and to try to rule themselves into contention."

Ireland's ranking has slipped considerably since the heights of the Giovanni Trapattoni era, but O'Neill is adamant that choosing less taxing friendly opponents would do little to prepare his players for the competitive tests which lie ahead.

He said: "Not that it matters to me, but if we had gone the other way, if you had given me three or four teams we could have beaten, I'm not sure that would be the best preparation for the European Championships. Do I think this is the best preparation? I do, yes."