Tardelli: Keane's experience is key
Marco Tardelli is backing Robbie Keane's goals and experience to see him through his return to Republic of Ireland action against FYR Macedonia. The 30-year-old striker has had barely 20 minutes of competitive football since damaging a calf muscle last month, but is set to be named in the starting line-up for Saturday evening's UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in Dublin.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni is hoping to get at least an hour out of Ireland's leading goalscorer of all time, but his assistant Tardelli has seen enough in the past two days of training to believe he could go the distance if required. He said: "Robbie Keane has been out of action for many days after the injury, but I have found him fit. There has been a smile on his face and he is in good form. I think it is possible for Robbie to play. He is fit to play a full match."
The current season has proved hugely frustrating for Keane, who is currently playing his football at West Ham on loan from Tottenham, where he has struggled to hold down a place under Harry Redknapp. Tardelli said: "That is a good motivation, but there is still a long way to go in the Premier League. I think this is a good chance for him to play well."
Keane and Kevin Doyle have been Trapattoni's first-choice strike-force from day one, and the prospect of having to do without either would come as a blow. However, the Italian has worked hard to increase the depth of his squad over the past three years and although Newcastle's Leon Best was sent back to Tyneside yesterday because of the ankle injury with which he had arrived two days earlier, he has options for if and when Keane needs to come off.
Tardelli said: "We have Jon Walters and Shane Long, who has already played in a very important match in Slovakia, so we have options for the future. But Robbie Keane is very important for his experience."
If much of the talk in Malahide this week has been about the fitness of Ireland's most prolific forward, there has also been more than a passing mention of Macedonia's dangerman. Goran Pandev plays his football in Italy with Serie A giants Inter Milan and as such, is no stranger to Trapattoni and his staff.
In particular, they have studied his prowess from set-pieces and will drum that message into their players during the days leading up to the game. Tardelli said: "He is very dangerous, he is playing very well and is a very clever player. He is also very dangerous on set-pieces. He was injured for two months, but now he is fit - he played in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and he played very well."