Keane's milestone ensures 3 crucial points

ROBBIE KEANE gave the best possible answer to his critics by scoring both of the Republic of Ireland's goals in their 2-0 European Championship qualifying group victory over Macedonia in Slopje last Saturday night. The goals brought Keane's Republic tally to 51. Not bad when you consider that it means that he is the first player in Britain and Ireland to score more than 50 goals in international games, moving him ahead of World Cup medal-winner Bobby Charlton on 49 and Gary Lineker on 48, both of England. To be realistic, there were reasons for some concern over Keane's more recent form. Things haven't gone as he had hoped at West Ham United, but he put that well behind him by snatching those two vital goals against Macedonia. The first was helped by a deflection off a Macedonian defender, while the second saw Keane take advantage of a sloppy back pass. But both efforts demonstrated just why Keane has scored so many goals in his career. In the first instance, he was prepared to shoot when so many players fail to take the responsibility. In the second, he again demonstrated that his instincts remain top class when reading what the defender was going to do. Once clear, he took the chance very well, sliding the ball into the corner. His contribution helped the Irish team to a success that keeps them on top of the group, level with Russia and Slovakia. There are now four games left, starting with a vital home match against Slovakia at the Avia Stadium on September 2. They then travel to Moscow to face Russia on September 6, before winding up their campaign with fixtures against Andorra (away) and Armenia (home) in October. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni claims that they will be like cup finals. Certainly, that will be the case for those games against Slovakia and Russia. "It might be possible to answer the question of whether we will qualify after those two games but, in my opinion, it will come down to the last match." stresses Trapattoni. The 72-year-old boss was pleased with last Saturday night's effort, arguing that the team is now playing as he wants it to. And, to be fair, any 2-0 away victory at this level deserves praise. At the same time, the Irish team had to acknowledge that they rode their luck on occasions as Macedonia hit the crossbar with a penalty and Shay Given made some good saves. What's more, Macedonia could have had another penalty. That, however, has to be balanced with the fact that a perfectly good goal from Simon Cox, was ruled out for offside. Overall, the Irish side deserved their victory. The defense did give real cause for concern in the first half but improved after the interval. Both Stephen Hunt and Aidan McGeady did a lot of good work down the wings and generally the side was pretty well organized. It all must have been reasonably satisfying for Trapattoni given that he was far from pleased prior to the encounter with the reasons given for the absence of some players. That easily could have affected the preparation for such an important game. But the main reason for his good humor must have been the goalscoring performance of Keane. Somewhat controversially, the manager had gone for Simon Cox from West Brom ahead of Shane Long to partner Keane up front. Cox did okay, as, indeed, did Long after coming on as a 65th minute substitute. Elsewhere, Russia were made to work surprisingly hard before beating Armenia 3-1 at home, while Slovakia could only manage a 1-0 success over lowly Andorra.

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Wexford shock Derry City

WEXFORD YOUTHS pulled off the shock result of the third round of the FAI Cup, trouncing Derry City 4-1 at Ferrycarrig Park. Danny Furlong grabbed a hat-trick. Favorites Shamrock Rovers had no such problems beating Athlone Town 4-0, while the holders Sligo Rovers only just got the better of Pike Rovers 3-2.