Keane's Irish record stands up to scrutiny

Robbie Keane has never been regarded as a great goal-scorer and in setting the record total for the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night the striker did miss a host of other chances.

But Keane's record, perhaps surprisingly, stands up to scrutiny. That other 24-year-old, Michael Owen, who scored for England on the same day, is judged a more clinical finisher but has only a marginally better goals-per-game ratio.

Keane has now scored 23 times for Ireland in 56 appearances (a ratio of 0.41 goals-per-game). Owen has struck 28 times in 65 matches (0.43). Furthermore, Ireland score far fewer goals than England. No other Irishman in the current squad has even reached double figures and Keane has nine in the 16 games he has played under the present manager Brian Kerr.

Keane's achievement is immense, although he was trying to play it down in the aftermath of the victory over the Faroe Islands that has placed Ireland at the top of Group Four, on goal difference, of the World Cup qualifiers. "I want to get us through to the next World Cup, that is the most important thing," Keane said. "There is no point in getting carried away at this stage, but I think we can get the results we need."

In setting the new record he beat the total reached by Niall Quinn of 21 goals and took just six years to do it. Quinn played 91 games to set that mark, but Keane spoke warmly of emulating "one of my heroes. I'll never forget the way in which he helped me in my career, passing on tips here and there," Keane said. "I was fortunate enough to play alongside him in the Irish team for a while and it really helped me. I still speak to Niall, so to follow him and then beat his own record is really special."

The two talked before last weekend's match against France. "He implored me to break the record," Keane said. "He said he was sick and tired of people ringing him up and asking him about it all the time." But Keane did not score and another of the accusations that is levelled against him is that he does not strike in the big games. Seven of his goals have come in four matches - against Canada, Malta twice and, of course, the Faroes. But Keane has also scored winners against the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and in the crucial World Cup play-off against Iran. He also scored three times in the World Cup itself - including the injury-time equaliser against Germany, which he rates as his best goal. Suitably, it was from a Quinn flick-on.

His goals - and the talismanic form of Damien Duff - together with fine performances from Roy Keane and Kevin Kilbane, in particular, mean that Ireland will go into next year in pole position. Only a 5-0 Israeli win against Cyprus next month will dislodge them. "We have already played Switzerland and France in tough away games," Robbie Keane said, "so we're on the right road because the important thing at the end of it all is Ireland playing in the finals."

The only concern was the high number of missed chances - although, fortunately for Ireland, given that Switzerland scored six against the Faroes, goal difference is the fourth criterion by which this tightest of groups will be decided.

Keane will hope to transfer his goal-scoring to Tottenham Hotspur. However, he said he was very happy with his club form. "It's been a brilliant start to the season at Tottenham, even though I've been playing on the right, left and down the middle," he said, "but as long as I continue doing well I don't mind."

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