Football: Injury to Keane casts shadow over Irish joy

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MANCHESTER UNITED will have to do without their captain, Roy Keane, for the first, if not the second, of their Champions' League matches over the next few weeks. Having sustained a hamstring injury in the Republic of Ireland's 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia on Wednesday, he seems certain to miss the Premiership needle match at Liverpool tomorrow week and the opening game in defence of the European Cup, at home to Croatia Zagreb on Tuesday week.

With Champions' League games being played in three successive weeks, it is a bad time to pick up an injury and there is no guarantee of Keane returning in time to face the other group opponents, Sturm Graz or Marseilles. The full-back Denis Irwin also hobbled out of the match in Dublin, though his Achilles strain was not feared to be as serious.

It is a bad blow, nevertheless, for both club and country, one which United deserved to avoid after releasing both players from their game against Newcastle four days ago.

The next engagement for both players should also have been against Croatian opposition, as their Irish colleagues flew straight from a euphoric Dublin to Zagreb for the second of their three European Championship qualifying matches in eight days. Graham Kavanagh of Stoke and Ipswich's Matt Holland have now been called up, though Lee Carsley and Stephen Carr are the more likely replacements tomorrow.

So there was little time to bask in the glow of a splendid victory over Yugoslavia, achieved with one of the best performances in Mick McCarthy's 32 games as manager. It concluded Ireland's home programme with a 100 per-cent record and, but for the away goal conceded - which puts Yugoslavia ahead of them if both teams finish level on points - would have cancelled out an unlucky 1-0 defeat in Belgrade last November.

With Croatia and Macedonia also involved, the group is as complex as ever. A simplified view is that Ireland's prospects of winning it depend on their doing better away to Croatia and Macedonia than Yugoslavia do in identical fixtures.

Asked who were the favourites now, Yugoslavia's coach, Vujadin Boskov, replied: "The one who's winning [Ireland] is always the favourite. If Ireland play like this, there is no question they can win in Croatia, because they will be without their best player, Boban. I was surprised with the quality of their play."