DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 15: Robbie Keane of Republic of Ireland celebrates at the end of the match during the EURO 2012 Qualifier Play Off Second Leg match between Republic of Ireland and Estonia at Aviva Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
The aging Robbie Keane is not the player he once was, but he always has been Ireland's star and will be looking to turn back the clock one more time in the Irish's first major tournament in 10 years.
Robbie Keane is the face of Ireland, which is to be expected of the captain, but it goes farther than just wearing the armband. He has more than 100 caps and 53 goals for Ireland and has shined in good times -- like when they qualified for the 2002 World Cup -- and in bad times, like when it failed to qualify for every major tournament since.
Now here Keane stands at 31 years old, having left European football for MLS, and possibly playing in his last major international tournament. While his star is not out, it has dimmed and the end is coming. Euro 2012 may be the last time "Keano" stands in the spotlight, a spotlight that he has enjoyed for 14 years now in the Ireland shirt and one he has always relished.
The last time Keane got the international headlines was 10 years ago in South Korea/Japan. The result was three goals and a trip to the Round of 16 for Ireland, where the country was eliminated on penalties by Spain. Needless to say, the pressure didn't scare him off, and he has done his mightiest to get Ireland back into a World Cup or European Championship ever since.
Only one player has ever scored more goals than Keane in Euro qualifying, yet he has never played in the Euros. He's done his part to try to get Ireland back to a World Cup, too, scoring four times in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and six more times in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup (and he did it without using his hands!).
Ireland's earlier failures to qualify for the Euros or World Cup are clearly not on Keane, so when the forward scored seven times in Euro 2012 qualifying to finally get back to a major tournament, it was justice. The Irish are back on the big stage, but can Keane still compete on it?
After dragging the Irish along for years, Keane may now need his team to drag him along. He's aging and has clearly slowed down, but there's more to his dip in form than just slowing down. He is not finishing the way that those around Europe remember him doing, where any look at goal was probably going to end up in the back of the net. His four goals in nine matches for the LA Galaxy this season look like a respectable output, but he has missed two or maybe even three golden chances for each one he's scored.
For all of those Irish who have been waiting to see Keane lead their team in the Euros just once, there is a sliver of hope. When the forward when on loan to Aston Villa at the beginning of the year, he looked very good and scored three times in seven matches. He looked, well, young. If that Keane can show up in Ukraine/Poland then the Irish just might have a shot.
Keane isn't going to run at defenders or by them the way he used to, but he's finding other ways to contribute. He's taken to dropping deeper into the midfield for the Galaxy and being as much of a creator as he is a finisher, which he will likely do for Ireland. This being possibly his last chance at a major international tournament, Keane will do whatever it takes to make an impact.
Ireland will surely need him to. In Group C with Spain, Italy and Croatia, it looks nearly impossible for the Irish to finish in the top two and advance to the knockout stages. If they are going to do it, though, they will need top notch performances from everyone, especially their captain. Can the face of Ireland conjure up some magic one last time?
National Team: Ireland
Club Team: LA Galaxy
Role in the Team: First choice forward in a 4-4-2, sometimes dropping deep underneath his strike partner