ROBBIE KEANE has urged the Republic of Ireland not to pass up the opportunity to book their place in the extended Euro 2016 finals.
Keane and his team-mates secured a berth in the last edition of the tournament in 2012 via the play-offs, a similar route to the one they took to reach their previous major finals tournament, the 2002 World Cup.
The expansion from 16 to 24 teams in France means they have an even better chance of qualification, and the 34-year-old LA Galaxy frontman is determined not to miss out.
Keane said: “It’s certainly a good opportunity for us. If you look in the past, the way we have qualified has always been through the play-offs, and of course we would like that to change and finish first.
“That second place is certainly up for grabs and we have to be going into this campaign fairly confident we can qualify for the Euros.
“The players have been around for a few years now. If you look at people like [Aiden] McGeady and [Glenn] Whelan, who have been fantastic for us and shown a lot of experience, we need those kind of players and the rest of the team to stand up now.”
If Ireland are to hand Keane a ticket to the third major finals tournament of his international career, they will have to negotiate their way out of a difficult group including world champions Germany.
The World Cup winners are hot favourites to win it, while Martin O’Neill’s men should battle it out with Scotland, Poland and Georgia for second place.
They launch their campaign against the Georgians in Tbilisi this evening in O’Neill’s first competitive fixture, and he would happily settle for the same results as predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni got against the same opposition in similar circumstances, a 2-1 victory.
O’neill said: “It’s a competitive game and it’s the first time I have managed a competitive game at international level, but I could compare this very, very easily with great big club games that I played both as a player and as a manager.
“The feelings are exactly the same – excitement and nervous excitement as well, just looking forward to it – all the same sort of feelings I would have had going in to manage at club level, and as a player.”