A decade-and-a-half on from his international debut, Robbie Keane notched his 59th goal for Ireland in a World Cup qualification win against the Faroe Islands
By Micil Glennon at the Aviva Stadium
Friday night at the Aviva was all about the captain.
Of course there were vital World Cup qualifying points up for grabs but the outcome was always going to be a formality.
Making a record-breaking 126th international appearance, Robbie Keane duly obliged with a hat-trick against the Faroe Islands; goals number 57, 58 and 59 moved the LA Galaxy forward ahead of Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta in the all-time international goalscoring charts. He had already pulled clear of Thierry Henry, David Villa, Samuel Eto'o and Romario.
Still the man has his critics. Before his double in the friendly against Georgia on Sunday, the much-travelled Dubliner had gone 10 matches for his country without a goal from open play. The criticism stemmed mainly from the fact that most of those games seemed to pass the 32-year-old by. It was fair comment. There were lots of characteristic honest shifts put in, lots of running and lots of arm waving too. But he was not on the goal trail.
Nonetheless, a simple fact remains. Ireland do not have and will probably never have another striker of his calibre.
He made his debut as a 17-year-old away to the Czech Republic in 1998 and scored his first goal against Malta later that year and has netted at least once for Ireland in every year since.
A decade an a half later only four Europeans, Germany's Miroslav Klose (67) and Gerd Muller (68), and Hungarians Sandor Kocsis (75) and Ferenc Puskas (84) sit above him in the goal-scoring charts.
The latest strikes did come against weaker nations, 96 and 162 in the rankings respectively, but it is often forgotten that Keane’s tally includes competitive strikes against Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
The former Inter and Tottenham player has scored in four qualification play-off ties against Turkey, Iran, France and Estonia. The ‘only scores in meaningless games’ argument is as ignorant as you’ll find in football debate.
After the Faroes game Keane spoke briefly about his achievement but quickly diverted the plaudits to his team-mates, a group which has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism over the last year since Euro 2012 capitulation and a 6-1 hammering to Germany.
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“The way the lads have bonded and the way we’ve conducted ourselves on the pitch has been a credit.
“It gives you confidence going into the next qualifier after getting three points so we’ll certainly look forward and they are two games we have to win. We’ve got a good chance, there’s no pressure with Sweden at home. We’re quite capable of going to Austria and getting three points.
“I don’t think anyone had any doubt about [our play-off chances] to be totally honest. People forget we were playing against one of the top three in the world in Germany.
“I think it was the way we got beaten, it wasn’t good because of the way we set ourselves out with the pride we have and it wasn’t good enough. That’s the thing about football, there’s always another game.”
That next game is what Keane lives for; another half-chance, another goal, another cartwheel.
After the Euros two of his pals, goalkeeper Shay Given, whose appearance record he surpassed yesterday, and fellow Dubliner Damien Duff, called time on their international careers. Another, Richard Dunne, hasn’t played any competitive football in a year through injury.
Why does Keane, now based on the far side of the world with the Los Angeles Galaxy, keep going? His answer in the pre-match press conference sums it up succinctly. “If people want to criticise me for wanting to play for my country, then I don't think I've got the problem.”