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Ranking Robbie Keane's 10 most important goals for Ireland

THAT strike against Germany and more memorable moments from down through the years.

10. Macedonia (March 26, 2011 – Euro 2012 qualifier)

Source: sp1873/YouTube

WHILE IRELAND WERE notoriously inept at beating teams ranked above them in competitive fixtures during Robbie Keane’s time as a player, with a handful of notable exceptions, the Boys in Green have been pretty efficient at overcoming the smaller sides that they are expected to beat. Keane has often been accused of being a flat-track bully, but it’s notable how many of his goals in these types of games led to Ireland winning by slim margins. On countless occasions therefore, the Tallaght native has spared the team’s blushes. Among many goals against lower-calibre opposition, the second goal in a 2-1 win against Macedonia edges others out as it came at a crucial point in Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, after they had dropped points in big games against Russia and Slovakia. Keane’s goal ultimately put them back on a path towards what would eventually be just their second-ever qualification for the Euros.

9. Yugoslavia (September 1, 1999 – Euro 2000 qualifying)

Source: sp1873/YouTube

On Monday, Keane cited his first-ever goal in a 5-0 win over Malta as his favourite for Ireland. Yet the second game in which he scored for his country was arguably even more significant. While Ireland ultimately missed out on a place at Euro 2000 following a playoff away-goals loss to Turkey, the win over Yugoslavia was a badly needed morale boost in the relatively early days of the Mick McCarthy era. Keane’s goal proved for the first-but-by-no-means-last time that the young striker could score against top-class opposition at international level — Ireland’s opponents that night had performed impressively at the 1998 World Cup, reaching the last-16 before narrowly losing out against Holland thanks to an injury-time Edgar Davids goal.

8. Italy (April 1, 2009 – 2010 World Cup qualifier)

Source: 2x45minut/YouTube

Comfortably the most contentious goal on this list, Stephen Hunt writing for The Sunday Independent at the weekend suggested his brother Noel still felt hard done by at not getting credited for this vital last-minute equaliser. Who actually scored it remains open for debate, but for the purposes of this exercise, we will assume Keane got the final touch. It may ultimately not have led to major tournament qualification, but in the context of the Giovanni Trapattoni regime, it was crucial. The Italian coach had many critics owing to some unconvincing displays, but — helped by Italy being reduced to 10 men early on — Ireland actually played some decent football in this match and deserved the equaliser when it came. Faith in Trapattoni, at least to a certain extent, was restored as a result.

7. France (November 18, 2009 – 2010 World Cup playoff)

Source: sp1873/YouTube

Another goal that turned out to be bittersweet, but consider the alternative. If Keane had not scored, then a campaign marked by improved results and an extremely drab style of football would have ended with a relative whimper. Instead, it was a kind of moral victory, as the Dubliner’s early strike inspired Ireland to outplay France on their own turf. Yes, it finished in disappointment, but it was also an enthralling game that ended in extremely dramatic circumstances. In a campaign filled with impossibly dull football, the match, thanks in a large part due to Keane’s goal, got the entire nation caring about and rigorously debating football for the first time in a long time.

6. Estonia (November 11, 2011 – Euro 2012 qualifying)

Source: VVD7PRODUCTIONSHDTV/YouTube

You could argue Ireland would have progressed even without Keane’s two goals in the first play-off leg against Estonia, but the significance of the team qualifying for just their second-ever Euros cannot be overlooked, and the Irish star’s brace was the safety blanket needed to ensure this historic outcome transpired.

5. Saudi Arabia (June 11, 2002 – 2002 World Cup group game)

Source: Benjamín Rodríguez/YouTube

It may have been a comfortable win ultimately, but goals in World Cup finals are rarely unimportant, and Keane’s early strike against Saudi Arabia helped settle the nerves for the Boys in Green against opposition they were expected to beat. It consequently paved the way for the side’s relatively smooth progression to the last-16.

4. Holland (September 2, 2000 – 2002 World Cup qualifier)

Source: Chimpanzeethat/YouTube

Ireland desperately needed a positive start to their 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign. In two successive campaigns under Mick McCarthy, they had narrowly missed out on qualification, losing via a playoff on both occasions, and being literally seconds away from Euro 2000 qualification before a last-gasp goal in Macedonia dented their hopes of advancing. Moreover, few people gave Ireland at chance of success in a group that included Holland and Portugal — both of whom were semi-finalists in the previous summer’s European Championships. Keane, however, had other ideas, and his header was a sign of things to come, as McCarthy and co finally made the breakthrough and reached a major tournament against the odds.

3. Iran (November 10, 2001 – 2002 World Cup playoff)

Source: Chimpanzeethat/YouTube

Many people assumed Ireland had done the hard work by beating Holland in their bid to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, but the subsequent play-off against Iran turned out to be a tricky encounter. Had Keane not netted the insurance of a second goal during the first leg in Dublin, the Irish side would ultimately have been looking at extra-time in the return encounter in front of a hostile Iranian crowd without their best player at the time (Roy Keane).

2. Spain (June 16, 2002 – 2002 World Cup last-16 game)

Source: FAI Channel/YouTube

Robbie Keane’s last-gasp penalty against Spain turned what was arguably a good tournament already from an Irish perspective into a great one, considering the well-documented turmoil the squad had to put up with during the build-up in Saipan. It still led to the agony of a penalty shoot-out defeat, of course, but to take a Spain side with a number of world-class players at the time so far was a remarkable feat. After Ian Harte had already missed one penalty, Keane — in typically ice-cold fashion — stepped up to score an injury-time spot-kick and send the Boys in Green fans into raptures for the third time in as many games.

1. Germany (June 5, 2002 – 2002 World Cup group game)

Source: dinadangdong/YouTube

There’s not much left to say about Keane’s most famous, most important and arguably best goal given the circumstances. Without it, Ireland were looking at the strong possibility of a group stage exit for the first time ever at the World Cup. All the hard work they had put in to qualify seemed set to end in a considerable anti-climax made worse by the controversial exit of captain Roy Keane on the eve of the tournament. Yet any residual bitterness or angst from Saipan was definitely put to bed by Roy’s namesake’s most iconic moment. You can probably count the moments when football in Irish history has created a general sense of national euphoria on one the hand — arguably with the exception of Ray Houghton’s winners against England and Italy in ’88 and ’94, David O’Leary’s penalty in ’90 and Robbie Brady’s moment of magic against the Italians last June, nothing has matched the boy from Tallaght’s finest moment in an Irish jersey.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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