IrelandWorld Soccer: How do you rate your group opponents?

Robbie Keane: We have obviously been drawn in a tough group, there is no denying that. Spain, as current world champions will be a big challenge to overcome. I also have a lot of respect for Croatia and Italy. I have played with Croatian players [Luka] Modric and [Vedran] Corluka at Spurs, so I’m fully aware of the quality they possess. And of course the Italians will undoubtedly be as strong as they are in every tournament.

What’s a realistic target? What would be a successful tournament?

I genuinely think that anything is possible when it comes to this tournament. Ireland has a tradition of performing well against big teams in the past. We beat England at Euro 88, Italy at USA 94 and drew with Germany at the 2002 World Cup. We have nothing to fear going into this tournament and we are well aware of our capabilities.

Do you relish being underdogs?

I don’t think we are underdogs. We have got to the tournament in the same way as everyone else. We kept eight consecutive clean sheets last year, which is a big achievement in itself. But we also played two of our group opponents, Italy and Croatia, beating Italy 2-0 in Liege and then drawing with Croatia in Dublin. People may not have as high expectations for us as they would for our opponents, but I don’t think we should be underestimated.

What impact has Trapattoni had on the squad?

We all have a lot to thank him for. He has brought so much experience and knowledge to the team. He is a pleasure to work with and I genuinely have so much respect for him. He is one of football’s true legends and his track record speaks for itself.

What do you remember of Euro 88?

I was just coming up to my eighth birthday and remember the neighbourhood, in fact the whole country, going football crazy. I have so many great memories of that tournament. One that sticks out in particular is Ray Houghton’s goal against England in Stuttgart. What a day that was to be Irish. That tournament definitely made me want to be a footballer. Hopefully that buzz will come back this summer and we can inspire today’s children in the same way.

How important are Ireland’s fans?

I genuinely believe we have the best fans in the world. I know there will be a serious fan base travelling to Poland, with estimates of up to 20,000 going out to support us. It has been 10 years since we qualified for a major tournament and it will be great to have the fans there cheering us on. The support from around the country really gives us a boost. They will help us be a force to be reckoned with this summer.

How was your stay at Aston Villa? 

I really enjoyed it as there was a huge Irish contingent there and I was made to feel really welcome by everybody. It was great playing every week and no doubt it helped to keep my fitness at a high level. LA Galaxy were going to different places for pre-season work, but I think it was more beneficial for me to be in one place rather than travelling around.

Is it a help or hindrance playing through the summer in MLS?

Obviously adapting to playing during the summer with Galaxy will be tough, especially with the European finals right in the middle of the season. I’m adapting to the climate in the US pretty well though. It’s a big change from England or Ireland. There was a lot of talk about me being homesick, but I don’t know where that came from. I have scored over 100 goals in the Premier League but I am really enjoying my time at Galaxy now. I want to play every week and I’m never happy sitting on the bench.

Interview by Sean Creedon