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Football: Young Keane holds the key

THERE IS not much Niall Quinn does not know about international football, what with his 70 caps for the Republic of Ireland. But even he admits that he has something to learn from Robbie Keane and will be hoping for another master class from the 19-year-old prodigy against Malta here tonight.

Quite simply it is a game the Irish must win and Quinn has complete faith in his striking partner. "I've nothing to teach Robbie. If anything his arrival has enhanced my own career. He's going right to the top and it is his pure love of the game that is getting him there. He hasn't time or inclination for anything else. He just wants to play and improve."

Keane and Quinn are back in tandem up front tonight after Mick McCarthy sidelined them in favour of a deep, defensive strategy which was only seconds from paying off with a point in Saturday's late 1-0 defeat in Croatia.

But despite that cruel setback, all is not lost and a win against the Maltese tonight would see the Republic coach's team move into second place, providing that Yugoslavia repeat Saturday's victory over Macedonia in Skopje. That would put Yugoslavia top with 16 points, the Irish second with 15, one point ahead of Croatia in third.

With Yugoslavia having to travel to Croatia while his side make the somewhat easier journey to Macedonia for the deciding game, McCarthy still rates highly the Republic's chances of winning the group, and is looking to Robbie Keane for the inspiration.

"What I want from him is what he can give, a spark, something different - a little twist and turn and a finish. That's his forte - putting the ball in the net," McCarthy said.

Keane was named the Premiership player of the month yesterday after a fine start for Coventry which has yielded three goals in three games. It is a run of form he is determined to continue.

"I know there is a lot expected of me now but I can cope with that expectation. You can't let all the media hype affect you. Okay, you could say the pressure is on me but it is always on strikers to score goals," he said.

McCarthy has already lost Roy Keane with a hamstring injury and is waiting for fitness checks on four players - Mark Kinsella, Gary Breen, Kenny Cunningham and Steve Staunton - before naming his line-up. But there is no doubt it will be back to the attack-minded 4-4-2 format which saw off Yugoslavia in Dublin a week ago, when Robbie Keane and Mark Kennedy both scored.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): A Kelly (Blackburn); Carr (Tottenham), Breen (Coventry), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Staunton (Liverpool) or Harte (Leeds); Kennedy (Manchester City), Carsley (Blackburn), Kinsella (Charlton), Kilbane (West Brom); Robbie Keane (Coventry), Quinn (Sunderland).