Los Angeles Soccer: Ireland national team
CARSON -- Robbie Keane returned to training Friday with the Galaxy, just four days after wrapping up his involvement at the European Championship, and although he wishes he were in Ukraine preparing for a quarterfinal Saturday or Sunday, he says he's happy to be back.
And ready to go, should he be called upon for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with Vancouver at Home Depot Center.
“It's nice to be back amongst the lads and look forward to being involved tomorrow,” the Irish striker said following Friday's training session at HDC's Track and Field Stadium. “[I'm ready to] play as long as I can. I'd be happy to play 90 minutes.”
He's hoping to “get minutes under my belt tomorrow to sort of get all the stiffness out” as he looks to move on from a very disappointing Euro 2012 campaign. Ireland lost all three of its Group C matches, to Croatia, Italy and Spain, and finished last in the 16-nation tournament.
Asked what he takes from the Euros, Keane replied: “Nothing, really. It was a good experience. It was obviously great to play in the European Championship, but if you don't win ... sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say the team you played were superior than you were. Simple as that, really.”
It was a frightful group for the Irish, who are capable battlers without the depth or talent of the continent's powers, a roster that includes the Spaniards -- defending European and World Cup champs -- and the Italians and, on occasion, the Croats, too.
The gap might be growing between decent teams, such as Ireland, and “people like Spain, who's probably on a different planet at the moment [from] anyone else I've ever played against,” Keane said. “You're just basically chasing shadows for 90 minutes.”
The only positive for Ireland was the Green Army supporters, a jovial lot who charmed everybody and won great plaudits for serenading their team with the Irish folk song “Fields of Athenry” as Spain rolled to a 4-0 victory Monday.
“That's normal for Irish fans,” Keane said. “They've been fantastic over the years, and especially in Poland I think they've been a credit to the country in the way they behaved and the way they supported the team. That's how every team should be supported.”
Robbie Keane will be back with the Galaxy next week, following Ireland's first-stage finale, after the Republic was eliminated from Euro 2012 contention with a lopsided loss to Spain.
The Irish, despite strong support from their legendary Green Army, are the first team ousted from the European Championship after Thursday's 4-0 defeat in Gdansk, Poland. They lost their Group C opener Sunday to Croatia and complete their schedule Monday against Italy in Poznan. The Italians must win to advance.
Keane, Ireland's captain, is expected to rejoin the Galaxy when they return from Wednesday's game at Real Salt Lake, although a club spokesman Thursday said the striker's schedule was not known. The Galaxy return from a three-week break Sunday against Portland at Home Depot Center. Keane has missed three Galaxy games, including the U.S. Open Cup defeat, while with the Irish squad.
Spain dominated Thursday's game, and after the game former Irish captain Roy Keane voiced his displeasure.
“It was a wake-up call for these players,” he said. “The goals they gave away tonight at any level were absolutely shocking.”
Ireland, the underdog in a a very difficult group, fell behind Spain on the first of two Fernando Torres goals in the fourth minute. The Spaniards, Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup champion, held two-thirds of possession, spent much of the match in and around the Irish box, and outfired their foe, 26-6, putting 20 shots on target.
David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Torres scored second-half goals.
Ireland was making its first European Championship appearance since 1988 and playing in its first major championship since the 2002 World Cup. They are one of two teams to play twice without a point -- Holland remains alive at 0-2-0 in Group B -- and have conceded a tournament-worst seven goals. Only one other team has surrendered more than three.
Editor's note: In an earlier version of this post quotes from former Irish captain Roy Keane were mistakenly attributed to current Irish forward Robbie Keane.
Mario Mandzukic scored two goals to lead Croatia to a 3-1 victory in the Group C opener in Poznan, Poland, leaving the Irish in a difficult position to advance to the knockout stage.
Ireland, which entered its first major tournament in a decade with a 14-game unbeaten streak, is last in the group after the opening matches and has games left against the last two World Cup champions, Thursday against Italy and next Monday against defending Euro titlist Spain. The top two teams in the group move on to the quarterfinals.
If Ireland fails to advance, Keane is expected to return to the Galaxy in time for the June 23 game against Vancouver at Home Depot Center. It is unlikely he'd be back for the June 20 match at Real Salt Lake.
Italy and Spain drew, 1-1, in a sparkling encounter featuring brilliantly executed sequences for goals three minutes apart in the second half by the Azzurri's Antonio Di Natale and Spain's Cesc Fabregas.
Keane, the Irish captain, went just 71 minutes before manager Giovanni Trappatoni, looking for an offensive spark, pulled him off in favor of Shane Long. Keane was denied a clear penalty kick in the 63rd minute by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers; televised replays indicated Gordon Schildenfeld fouled him from behind.
Ireland was unfortunate on all three Croatian goals. Mandzukic scored in the third minute from an odd header following a deflected cross, and Nikica Jelavic was in an offside position when he scored the winner just before halftime, except the ball came off a shanked clearance attempt by the Irish. Mandzukic's second goal, three minutes into the second half, was a header that hit the right post and ricocheted in off diving goalkeeper Shay Given.
Sean St. Ledger netted Ireland's goal, a header from a free kick in the 19th minute.
CARSON -- The odds might not favor Ireland as the European Championship begins in Poland and the Ukraine, but that's fine with Galaxy striker Robbie Keane, the Irish's captain and all-time goals leader. He rather likes it that way.
The world's No. 2 soccer tournament kicks off Friday morning L.A. time, and Keane will lead the Irish into Euro 2012 action on Sunday morning, a critical meeting with Croatia before showdowns with the last two World Cup champions.
It's a ferocious challenge, but whatever Ireland lacks in technical brilliance is offset by plenty of grit and guile -- and Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni's clampdown defensive system.
“We’ve certainly got the toughest group,” Keane told L.A.-based reporters before heading to Europe last month. “We’re underdogs, and I think with the national team it’s always good -- and we’ve always done better -- when we’re the underdogs. Hopefully, that will be the case.”
It's Ireland's first major competition in a decade, since the 2002 World Cup, and its first European Championship appearance since 1988, when Keane was 7 years old. The draw could hardly have been worse.
Spain, the defending European and World Cup champion (and only the third team ever to win the titles back-to-back), is the finest side on the planet and, along with Germany and Holland, the tournament favorite. Italy comes in undervalued and, as always, with a defensive mindset that can boost Azzurri chances. Croatia always is among Europe's most talented teams.
Ireland, based in Poland for Group C play, faces Croatia in Poznan, then takes on Spain next Thursday in Gdansk and Italy on June 18 in Poznan.
“Spain, who are kind of the Barcelona of everyday kind of football, that’s going to certainly a challenge,” Keane said. “We’ll certainly be doing a lot of running, a lot of chasing. Croatia we played against last year, and we’re quite even team. Italy is Italy -- they defend very well as a team, but we’ve got a manager who’s Italian, who knows the Italian players inside-out. ...
“We have the toughest group, we know that, we’re not stupid, we’re not naïve to think that we’ve got an easy group, but the thing is when you play these games, there’s no easy games regardless who you’re playing.”
The Irish beat Italy, 2-0, in a friendly last year, and they have a knack for getting results against better-fancied teams. They've lost just twice in 24 competitive games under Trapattoni and might have gone to the 2010 World Cup if not for Thierry Henry's infamous hand ball.
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane is anxiously awaiting next year's European Championship after captaining Ireland to its first finals in 24 years.
Now he knows the challenge ahead, and it's sure not an easy one.
The Irish were drawn Friday into Euro 2012's Group C, along with World Cup champion Spain, powerhouse Italy and Balkan giant Croatia. With only two teams from each group moving to the knockout stage, the Republic will need to be at their best -- and most fortunate -- to emerge from this bunch.
England and France were matched with tournament co-host Ukraine, fellow co-host Poland heads the slightest of groups, and old rivals Holland and Germany are together, along with Portugal and Denmark, in this tournament's likely Group of Death.
The tournament begins June 8, with Poland facing Greece and Russia meeting the Czech Republic in Group A matches. The final is July 1 in Kiev. ESPN's networks will televise the tournament in the U.S.
Here are the groups:
Keane played until the 67th minute for Ireland, which advanced to next year's championship in Poland and the Ukraine with a 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia following a 1-1 draw in Tuesday's second leg.
Keane, who scored twice in Ireland's 4-0 win in Friday's first leg in Tallinn, is scheduled to join the Galaxy's preparations Thursday for the MLS Cup final against Houston on Sunday at Home Depot Center.
“It’s a great night for everyone, for the players and the fans -- a night that we’ll never forget,” Keane, the Irish captain, told media in Dublin. “The team spirit has got us through this campaign, and full credit to everyone in this group. This is what football is all about, moments like this.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena had asked Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni to release Keane following Friday's victory, which gave the Irish an overwhelming advantage in the series. Keane and Trapattoni resisted -- Arena said Monday they were correct, that Keane should remain with his national team -- and Arena pleaded that Keane's minutes be limited.
Croatia, the Czech Republic and Portugal on Tuesday also completed playoff victories to qualify for Euro 2012.
The full field (draw Dec. 2 in Kiev):
With that in mind, yes, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena did inquire as to whether the Irish might be willing to relinquish their star striker a few days early, all the better to prepare for Sunday's MLS Cup final against Houston.
The Irish are up, 4-0, after the first leg, two of the goals from Keane, and it would take a collapse of nearly unprecedented proportions to lose that advantage. (Nearly, because it happened to the Galaxy once, against San Jose in the 2003 playoffs.)
“I've had contact with Mr. Trapattoni ...,” Arena said Monday. “I asked Mr. Trapattoni if he would give it consideration.”
Mr. Trapattoni -- that would be Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland's Italian manager -- told Arena no. And Arena says he's right.
“In reflecting on that,” Arena said, “I really do believe he belongs with Republic of Ireland for this game, in that he's their captain and they haven't [yet qualified]. I want him to consider limiting his minutes, if it's possible. ...
“They need to do what they need to do to qualify. If there’s an opportunity for Robbie to get limited minutes, he will. We’re hopeful that happens.”
Robbie Keane will be returning to the Galaxy in the best of spirits after leading Ireland to Euro 2012.
The playoff with Estonia isn't finished -- the second leg will be Tuesday in Dublin -- but it might as well be after Keane tallied twice in a 4-0 triumph Friday in Tallinn that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
“The cat is in the sack,” Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni told reporters after the victory. “But the sack is not closed. There are still 90 minutes to go, and the cat is still dangerous. It's a wild cat.”
The Irish, who have lost in four of their past five playoffs for a major-tournament berth, are in one of four series for the final berths in next year's 16-nation European Championship, to be played in Poland and the Ukraine.
Keane, who returned quickly from a muscle tear and found his form in three playoff appearances for the Galaxy, was a pivotal performer, scoring his 52nd and 53rd international goals, in the 71st and 88th minutes, to double the lead provided by Keith Andrews and, on a Keane feed, Jonathan Walters.
The L.A. star also was the key figure in two Estonian red cards, taken down by Andrei Stepanov to give Ireland a one-man advantage in the 35th minute and luring a handball from captain Raio Piiroja that denied him a clear path to the net in the second half.
In the other playoff openers, Croatia won, 3-0, at Turkey; the Czechs won, 2-0, at home against Montenegro; and Portugal notched a 0-0 draw at Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Keane returns to the Galaxy following Tuesday's game, to join preparations for the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final against Houston at Home Depot Center.
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Robbie Keane was acquired in part to help prod the Galaxy to the MLS Cup title, but it's looking like he could miss the entire run.
Keane's injury was diagnosed by Irish national team doctors as a grade-two torn muscle in the back of his thigh, and it could keep him out as long as six weeks -- until the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final at Home Depot Center.
“We'll know more in 10 days,” he told British broadsheet The Guardian. “I've got to get another scan, and, hopefully, it settles down and isn't as bad as when I had the first scan done [after aggravating the injury in a European Championship qualifier last Friday], when there was a lot of bleeding. I'll go back to [the Galaxy] and see. It's a four-to-six-week injury, and it will be touch and go.”
Keane is due to arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
“We'll know more when he gets back here,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said Monday. “Can't tell until he gets back here and we have our people look at him.”
Keane took an existing injury to Europe for Ireland's final two Euro 2012 qualifying group games and aggravated it while setting up Kevin Doyle in the seventh minute for the first goal in a 2-0 victory Friday in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Andorra. Rather than signal that he needed to come off the field, Keane soldiered on for the full 90 minutes.
“I actually did it on Kevin's goal,” Keane said. “The adrenaline gets you through, but straight after the game, I knew that it was a tear. Of course, I would take injections, [but] this is different. It's a muscle injury and not just pain. It's a grade-two tear -- grade-three is the worst.
“It's disappointing, and I'll do my best to get back. The medical facilities are very, very good in L.A., and, hopefully, the doctors over there will get me back.”
A controversial red card and an own goal contributed to the result, which sends the Irish -- with Galaxy forward Robbie Keane -- into a home-and-home playoff next month for a Euro 2012 berth. A draw to determine four playoff matchups will be held Thursday in Krakow, Poland.
Russia (7-1-2) won Group B with a 6-0 rout of Andorra and claimed one of 16 berths in next year's finals in Poland and the Ukraine. Other qualifiers are the host nations, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, defending champion Spain and Sweden. The Germans and Spaniards posted perfect qualifying records.
Joining Ireland (6-1-3) in the playoff round will be Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Montenegro, Portugal and Turkey. Sweden claimed the top runner-up spot and advanced straight to the finals.
Movsisyan, an Azerbaijan-born Armenian striker who spent his teen years in Southern California and starred at Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College, scored four goals in eight qualifying appearances for the Highlanders (5-3-2) and created three of four goals in Friday's victory over Macedonia that set up the winner-takes-all showdown in Dubin.
Armenia, which had never come close to qualifying for a major event, would have advanced to the playoff with a victory in Dublin. But goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky was sent off in the 26th minute after he was incorrectly judged to have handled the ball outside his box, defender Valeri Aleksanyan turned a Damien Duff cross into his own net before halftime, and the Highlanders were down, 2-0, after Richard Dunne's goal in the 60th minute.
CARSON -- The news isn't good out of Ireland, with Robbie Keane forced out of Tuesday's European Championship qualifying finale against Armenia with a abductor strain that could keep him on the sidelines into Major League Soccer's playoffs.
Keane played the full 90 in Ireland's victory Friday over Andorra, but he complained of soreness the following day and was dropped from the Irish roster for the showdown in Dublin with Armenia, which will send the winner (or Ireland if it's a draw) into the playoffs for a berth in next year's Euro 2012 finals in Poland and the Ukraine.
The injury, which Keane was carrying when he flew to Ireland eight days ago, could sideline the striker for as long as four weeks, although the Galaxy hope his recovery time will be much shorter. He almost certainly will miss Sunday's SuperClasico against Chivas USA and the Oct. 20 CONCACAF Champions League group finale against Motagua in Tegucigalpa, Honduras -- a must-win encounter.
The Galaxy will open the playoffs the weekend before Halloween. The Nov. 20 MLS Cup at Home Depot Center is a little less than six weeks away.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said he wasn't sure what Keane's situation would be.
“We'll know more when he gets back here,” Arena said. “Can't tell until he gets back here and we have our people look at him.”
Keane will remain with the Irish national team through Tuesday's match.
OTHER INJURIES: Arena says Landon Donovan, who pulled out of the U.S. friendlies last weekend against Honduras and Tuesday night against Ecuador with a quad strain, was “doing better,” but Donovan declined interview requests.
Midfielder/defender Sean Franklin, who has missed the past six games -- three in MLS, three in the Champions League -- with an inflamed knee, says he is targeting the Motagua game for his return.
“I'm pretty close,” he said. “I was jogging yesterday and today, and the knee felt good. Hopefully, it'll be the next couple of weeks.”