Ireland out to avoid early exit

Robbie Keane (AP)
Robbie Keane (AP)

Dublin - After scraping into next year's European Championship through the playoffs, Ireland's mission is to avoid another embarrassing appearance at the finals.

Giovanni Trapattoni's team failed to get a single point from its three group games in Poland and Ukraine in 2012. Current coach Martin O'Neill will be hoping for a kinder draw on Saturday than his predecessor, who had to face holder and eventual champion Spain, as well as Italy and Croatia.

Ireland also failed to advance from the group stage at its other appearance in 1988.

By beating and drawing against World Cup holder Germany in their Euro 2016 qualifying matches, Ireland showed what the current crop of players is capable of.

For a group of stalwart players this could be their last chance to make an impression on a tournament. Goalkeeper Shay Given (39), defender John O'Shea (34) and Robbie Keane (35), have amassed almost 400 senior caps between them but the 2018 World Cup in Russia might be beyond them.

"These boys have all contributed and they have played in a lot of the bigger games earlier in the group, and they won't be giving up their places easily," O'Neill said. "Even when they are not in the starting XI, it's what they bring to the dressing room and the training pitch."

Here is a look at some of Ireland's key players:

ROBBIE KEANE 

The captain was Ireland's top scorer in qualifying, although five goals came against minnow Gibraltar. And when it came to the playoff against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Los Angeles Galaxy forward had to settle for a place on the bench. It's a status the former Tottenham player might have to get used to if he makes the cut for France.

SEAMUS COLEMAN

Signed by Everton from Irish club Sligo Rovers for just 60,000 pounds (now $90,000) in 2009, Coleman may go down as one of the top bargains in Premier League history. The right back is a strong defender but even better going forward — he has scored 12 goals for Everton over the last two seasons — making him the ideal modern-day full back.

JON WALTERS

Hard-running, hard-working, versatile, unselfish and with an eye for goal, Walters is an unlikely star of the Irish team - the type of player teammates love to have around and managers tend to find a place for. Scored both goals as Ireland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 in the playoffs to qualify for the Euros, and can play up front or on the wing.

COACH: MARTIN O'NEILL

A trophy winner as a coach with English and Scottish clubs, the astute coach is preparing for his first taste of life in the dugout at a tournament. Rather than being a hindrance, Roy Keane has proved to be a key ingredient to Ireland's qualifying success as an assistant.

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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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