Shane Long and Simon Cox make Robbie Keane's injury little to worry about for Irish fans

Simon Cox of Ireland (R) tangles with Adam Thompson of Northern Ireland during the Carling Nations Cup match between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at Aviva Stadium on May 24, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

The news that Robbie Keane has suffered an injury in training just hours before the Irish team were set to depart for Macedonia today shouldn't be too big a worry for Irish boss Giovanni Trappatoni.

Keane's status for the european qualifier against Macedonia on Saturday night remains unclear. In recent times the idea of heading into a crucial match like this without the nation's leading goal scorer and his regular strike partner who is arguably the team's best player, Kevin Doyle, would have decimated fan's optimism.

However this is not the case on this occasion.

The impressive performances of West Brom's Simon Cox during the Carling Nations cup will give the coaching staff a headache ahead of saturday regardless of Keane's health. Cox has played himself into contention for a starting role which is telling considering how highly thought of Shane Long has become in recent weeks.

Should Keane not be able to lead the side out at the weekend then the duo of Cox and Long would be a mouth watering partnership.

With both players currently on form and exhibiting the exuberance you would expect from youth, Long and Cox could actually be first choice as a pair regardless of Keane's health.

Both player's style of play would perfectly complement the others as Long looks to lead the line while Cox can get on the ball and make things happen with it at his feet. The duo are a long way from the old days of Gary Doherty and David Connolly who basically guaranteed Keane his starting place.

While Cox's inexperience makes Long's 19 international caps make him look like an established international, neither player should have any problems leading the line against Macedonia. Macedonia are a decent side relatively but defensively they struggled when the teams last met.

They came to Dublin with an unconvincing goalkeeper and brute like defense that in reality should have been dismantled with ease by the Irish team had they shown more of a finishing touch. Macedonia will likely not approach this game with the same attitude as they did the last which should suit Ireland.

Should Macedonia press on from the first whistle and look to take the game to Ireland, the pace of Cox and in particular Long will have their defenders in serious trouble. Counter attacking football should afford Ireland the chance to win the game providing that the team as a whole doesn't waste the ball by playing it in the air to the minute strike paring.

For this reason both Cox and Long could be in contention to be the starters—together. Robbie Keane does not have much pace at this stage in his career, in fact he never had much pace. The counter attacking game doesn't suit him anymore.

Ideally Ireland will go to Skopje and show that they are the better team with more footballing talent but with the likelihood of a Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews midfield partnership don't expect that to happen.

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