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Published: 11:13 | 3/6/16

Houghton backs Keane inclusion

Squad selection right says Ireland legend

Former Republic of Ireland international Ray Houghton has backed manager Martin O’Neill's decision to include veteran striker Robbie Keane in his squad for Euro 2016.

The Irish skipper is currently sidelined with a calf injury and didn't feature in either of Ireland's warm-up games ahead of the tournament which kicks off next week.

Keane himself has admitted that he is unlikely to be fit for Ireland's opening group fixture against Sweden on June 13th, but is hoping to be available for the game against Belgium five days later.

Despite worries over his fitness, Keane got the nod over Ipswich striker David McGoldrick, but Houghton believes it was the correct decision.

“Obviously they’ve assessed it, there’s no use taking Robbie if he’s not going to be playing any minutes at all, it’s just a waste,” he said.

"But the manager feels that he is the captain of the squad. He might not be the captain of the team because he might not be in the starting 11.

"If we have one chance in a game late on, I know who I’d want to be on the end of it, it’d be Robbie Keane because his goal-scoring record has been absolutely phenomenal."

As regards the remainder of O'Neill's selections for the final 23, Houghton believes that the manager has made the right calls, although he does feel sorry for Harry Arter who missed out through injury.

"There’s no real major shocks, there’s one or two that might be disappointed. Harry Arter if he was fit might have posed a question," he added.

"I don’t think there’s too many players in there that you might have changed. McGoldrick is probably the one that if you were going to take an extra striker would go."

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa midfielder also dismissed suggestions that the Sweden game was make-or-break for O'Neill's men.

"I don’t think it is a make-or-break game," he said.

"That was our problem four years ago, far too much emphasis was put on ‘we must win, we must win’, so when we lost everyone was flat.

"The players were flat, the fans were flat, the nation back here was flat because we had Spain up next and then we had Italy after that.

"I think we have to be more realistic, even if we draw the first game it won’t be the end of the world.

"Having spoken to some of the players who have told me about Martin and the type of manager he is, even if we lost the first game, Martin’s the type of lad who will get you up and say ‘right, we can win the next two'.

"The players just have to believe that when they go out there, they’re going to play without fear and enjoy it."

By: Kieran O'Daly

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