Los Angeles Soccer: Shay Given
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.
Final details of Galaxy forward Robbie Keane's loan deal to Aston Villa were being finalized Wednesday as the English Premier League club prepared to officially introduce the Irishman at its weekly news conference.
Keane will appear before the media Thursday, a Galaxy spokesman confirmed, and is expected to make his debut for Villa on Saturday against Everton, which has Landon Donovan on loan.
The deal was agreed to in principal last weekend but the clubs have been wading through what Villans manager Alex McLeish termed “red tape.” The loan is expected to last about 6½ weeks, with Keane returning to L.A. in late February, and the Birmingham-based club -- owned by American Randy Lerner, who also owns the Cleveland Browns -- will pay a loan fee estimated at about $775,000.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, in a conference call Tuesday with L.A.-based reporters, said that it was “safe to say Robbie will be going on loan to Aston Villa.”
The pluses to such a loan, he said, was the Keane (and Donovan) were “going to come into the end of our preseason in good form. Hopefully, they'll be in a good position to get us through the initial round of the Champions League as well as the opening games of MLS.”
The English Premier League club's roster for three games in the World Football Challenge series of exhibitions -- including the July 24 friendly against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center -- was released Thursday. The names of those not here are about as impressive as those who are.
There's almost $110 million worth of talent -- that's 20 David Beckhams -- missing from Man City's 17-day North American tour. For instance, superstar Ivorian striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who spent the last half of last season on loan to Real Madrid and, the English media speculates, is awaiting a full transfer to the Spanish giant.
Maybe he should have come along. Real Madrid is in town, too, ahead of its game Saturday against the Galaxy at the Coliseum.
Adebayor wasn't happy to be left off the travel roster.
“I don't know what I have done wrong,” Adebayor said this week, according to Sky Sports. “I get an email out of the blue on my holidays telling me I wasn't going on the [U.S.] tour, and they told me I am not going to train with the first team. It's an insult to me to tell me I am now only fit to train with the reserves. I will return to training, but I feel I've been let down and disrespected.”
Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, the Blues' biggest star, is away at Copa America, South America's club championship. So are Argentine defender Pablo Zabaleta and Paraguayan forward Roque Santa Cruz, although Santa Cruz isn't expected to return to the club.
Neither is Irish goalkeeper Shay Given, who is in the final stages of a move to Aston Villa. Welsh forward Craig Bellamy and English defenders Wayne Bridge and Nedum Onuoha also appear to be headed out.
And Ivorian defender Kolo Toure is serving a six-month suspension after failing a drug test last spring.