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The nation's record goalscorer was in confident mood as he spoke to reporters in advance of the first game with Croatia insisting that the Boys in Green can progress

Ireland captain Robbie Keane has said today's Euro 2012 opener with Croatia will be one of the biggest games in his career.

The LA Galaxy striker, who has made over 100 appearances for his country, said the clash is 'certainly up there' in the list of big games he has participated in.

Keane added: "I'm very fortunate as I have said before to have played in a World Cup. The European Championship is different. Everybody has great memories over the years of previous Irish teams.

"It is certainly going to be a special occasion to play for your country, but to lead your country in a major championship is something that I don't think any player will ever forget," said the striker.

The Tallaght native scored three goals in Ireland’s last major tournament appearance in World Cup 2002 as he helped Mick McCarthy’s men into the knock out stages and he’s aware what the tournament means to the players and fans alike.

"It's been ten difficult years for the country. In 2002, we had great experience with people like Niall Quinn and Steve Staunton. I keep saying but we took it for granted. When you are a young lad you think you are going to be in every tournament and obviously we haven't.

"I think it has been a long time coming for the country. We can now see the atmosphere in the whole nation back home. It has completely changed the whole atmosphere of the whole country. The country has been on its knees for a few years. It has certainly given the whole country a lift," said the forward who will start in attack with Kevin Doyle against Croatia.

Keane said Ireland are in one of the 'toughest groups' with games against Spain and Italy to come but added that that the Boys in Green are not at Euro 2012 to make up the numbers.

"I've been with the lads now for the three weeks. With the belief that we have in the squad for the last three years, there is no doubt in my mind that these players are going into this competition believing that they can get out of this group."

He urged Ireland to be cautious taking on Slaven Bilic's Croatia side and to be wary in particular of his former club team-mate Luka Modric who he played with at Tottenham.

"We know they have grown as individual players and collectively as a team since [Slaven] Bilic took over as manager. They have become a stronger and even better team.

"I look forward to playing against him (Modric) and hopefully after the game shaking his hand with three points in the bag," concluded Ireland's record goalscorer.


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