Shay Given has handed Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni a late injury scare ahead of Wednesday’s flight to Estonia for the European Championship playoffs.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper sat out training in Malahide on Tuesday after complaining of a stiff neck, but Trapattoni believes his number one will be available for Friday’s big match in Tallinn.
Back-up goalkeeper David Forde of Millwall is definitely out of the game after returning to his club for treatment on a thigh injury with his place taken by Motherwell’s Darron Randolph.
Shane Long and Liam Lawrence are definitely out of both games with Estonia, while defender John O’Shea and striker Leon Best may yet make the return leg in Dublin next Tuesday night as they battle against injuries.
Richard Dunne, Keith Fahey and Keith Andrews also sat out training on Tuesday but again as a precaution.
“We are confident that Shay will be okay to train in the match stadium on Thursday and play against Estonia on Friday,” said Ireland coach Marco Tardelli.
Captain Robbie Keane arrived home on Tuesday and is ready to carry on from where he left off on the other side of the world.
Keane scored and played a hugely influential role as the LA Galaxy scored a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship on Sunday night.
They now play the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup 2011 decider at their Home Depot Stadium on November 20th, after Keane’s bid to get Ireland to the Euro 2012 finals.
“We haven’t qualified for the European Championships for the last 20 years or so. It’s going to be a big occasion,” said Keane.
“Seeing everyone back home, I know everyone’s looking forward to it. Of course I’m just happy to be back fit and I look forward to the games.”
Keane’s Man of the Match performance against Real Salt Lake, when he scored one goal and could have had a hat-trick, was his third game in a week and proof positive that he is recovered from the adductor muscle injury picked up in the Euro win over Andorra last month.
“When the injury first happened they said four to six weeks, and that really would have put me out,” added Keane.
“It’s always nice to get back early, and I managed to do that. I’m very happy.”
Stoke City striker Jonathon Walters looks certain to partner Keane with Long’s absence.
With Kevin Doyle suspended for the first leg in Tallinn, Walters is now the favorite, ahead of Simon Cox, to partner Keane in the Baltics.
“Jonathon Walters is more suited to playing up top, ahead of Robbie Keane,” said Trapattoni.
“Keane and Cox are very similar players. It is not impossible to play them together but I think Walters has shown in the past that he can play in that role, in front of Robbie.
“I am happy that Robbie is fit again and playing for his club in America. He is in good form and looking forward to the game.”
Midfielder Glenn Whelan believes the pain of Paris and that controversial Thierry Henry handball two years ago will drive Ireland on against Estonia.
“The lads that were involved know the feeling of that final whistle in France when we got beaten, and nobody wants to have that feeling again,” Whelan said.
“So we can use that as motivation going into both games against Estonia and change things around after the last time and hopefully qualify, which will give everybody a big lift.”
NORTHERN Ireland winger Paddy McCourt was Celtic’s super-sub as he inspired a second half fight-back at Motherwell on Sunday.
Neil Lennon’s team moved back into second spot in the Scottish Premier League thanks to the 2-1 win at Fir Park, three days after a 3-1 victory at home to French side Rennes in the Europa League.
Celtic are now 12 points behind Rangers but with a game in hand over their Glasgow rivals after Gary Hooper’s late winner, set up by Irish striker Anthony Stokes and McCourt.
Stokes had leveled after an early opener from Michael Higdon in a game that saw Motherwell’s Meath born defender Tim Clancy sent-off.
The introduction of McCourt by manager Lennon made a big difference as Celtic came from behind to win for the third time in four games.
“It shows that there is a bit of character and it was great to get the goal in the later stages,” said McCourt afterwards.
“I was delighted to come on and contribute. If it had finished 1-1 it was a long way back. We said during the week that winning on Thursday and today was an absolute must. I think the manager and players knew that.
“I’m not saying that if we didn’t get it then the manager was going to get sacked because I don’t know, but as a group we knew these two wins were massive.
“Sunday at Motherwell was a very important win for everyone and it gives us a couple of weeks now to enjoy it and look to build on it after the international break.
“There is no getting away from it, I am sure everyone will say it, it has been a poor start so hopefully with these last two games we have turned a bit of a corner and we can go and put a string of results together.
“It is still going to be hard but to get the two wins going into the break will give us time to get a few players back. There are a lot of lads who have played a lot of games and who need a wee bit of a rest.
“As I said, we will get a few bodies back and hopefully we can close the gap back a bit.”
McCourt added, “The game was slipping away when I came on. I know I am getting put on to win the game, not to shore up the defense so I definitely feel that sense of responsibility and I am comfortable with it.
“The manager has used me as a substitute a lot, sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t and thankfully today I was able to help us get the three points.”
Coach Alan Thompson praised McCourt’s contribution. “How many times has he done it?” asked Thompson. “He did it at Dundee United last year and at St. Mirren and again here. That’s what Paddy is, he is a breath of fresh air -- for 10 minutes.
“He had a good hour against Rennes in midweek, he played in a big game at Ibrox last year. If he keeps doing what he did for 15 minutes he is going to be pushing for starts.”
Celtic have confirmed that former Dutch winger Bolo Zenden is training with the club with a view to signing a short term contract.
Zenden, who also played for Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool, is available on a free transfer after he was released by Sunderland at the end of last season.
“Bolo came in a couple of days ago and he trained on Saturday,” assistant manager Thompson told Sky Sports.
“He’s a free agent with an unbelievable CV. He wants to come, so we’ll have a look and see what we can do.”
Pareiko Not Sharp
ESTONIA goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko got a taste of what’s to come when he conceded four goals as Wisla Krakow lost 4-1 at Fulham in the Europa League last Thursday night, one of them to Irish winger Damien Duff.
Pareiko concedes that Duff and Ireland will present another formidable challenge in Tallinn for an Estonian side that knocked Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland out of the playoffs.
“For us, coming second to Italy in the group was a big, big, accomplishment,” said Pareiko.
“We try to play the best game we can against Ireland. We know how they play. Of course, they are favorites.
“It is our first time in the playoff. Ireland have been in playoffs many times and have reached major tournaments but we played good all tournament.
“Our problems came against the teams that aren’t so good. I think we can cause problems against Ireland when we play.”
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