'This is my best chance to qualify with Republic,' says Keane

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The Independent Football

Robbie Keane is convinced the Republic of Ireland can qualify for next year's World Cup at the expense of the reigning champions. Keane, who will shake off the after-effects of his recent move back to Tottenham to lead his country against Georgia at Croke Park tonight, knows three points will take them level with Italy at the top of the Group Eight table.

That could set up a showdown between the two in Bari on 1 April, four days after the Irish host Bulgaria at the same time as the Italians make the tricky trip to Montenegro.

"This is our best chance since I have been involved in the Irish team," said the 28-year-old. "Obviously, we qualified for the World Cup in 2002 through a play-off. But this is our best chance to qualify straight. Italy are a great team with a great manager and great players. But I don't see any reason why we can't do it."

They will have to see off the eastern Europeans in Dublin this evening if Keane's dream is to be realised. The Republic's Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, has only one selection problem; whether or not to gamble on the fitness of the Sunderland full-back Paul McShane as he battles a hamstring injury. Stephen Kelly is in line to fill in if McShane does not make it, while Blackburn's Keith Andrews will partner Glenn Whelan in central midfield.

Meanwhile, Wales look like they will go into their friendly against Poland in Portugal tonight without their captain, Craig Bellamy. The Manchester City striker is suffering with a swollen knee. With Simon Davies, Jason Koumas and James Collins out, John Toshack will have to field a young side with Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and West Ham's Jack Collison set to form an eye-catching partnership in midfield.