Robbie Keane concluded his Irish senior international career the way he led it – in the limelight, captain’s armband pinned to his bicep and a goal for good measure raked into the back of the opposition’s goal, as Ireland defeated Oman 4-0 in the captain and record goalscorer’s final appearance for his country.
In his 146th international in green and white, Keane would take all notice of importance in Lansdowne Road, receiving the due recognition and sentiments of President Michael D. Higgins and others before getting on with what he has wanted to do all his life – play football for his country.
Keane departs with incredible memories, the highs of World Cup 2002 & Oliver Kahn, Euro 2016, and his career’s magnum opus, an excess of goals – all 68 of them – consistent in their predatory quality throughout an international career spanning 18 years, beginning with a distant 5-0 victory over Malta in a faraway 1998.
His final strike would have to wait however, as despite his team-mate’s visible desire to play every conceivable pass towards that area of the pitch he located at the time, it was Ireland’s star of Euro 2016 Robbie Brady that gave rest to Keane and got the party started.
Following a foul by Oman defender Harib Jamil Zaid Al Saadi on Jonathan Walters on the outskirts of the penalty area, 24-year-old Brady stepped up to the mark and curled a beautiful free-kick into the bottom corner, goalkeeper Al Rushaidi’s static wall doing him no favours whatsoever.
Ireland’s lead was doubled by the man of the night. Robbie Keane got his goal and his moment, the moment everyone inside Lansdowne Road had flocked to see, their leader getting a final farewell goal. And not a bad one, either.
Keane took advantage of a bouncing ball inside a panic-ridden Oman penalty area and scissor-sliced a powerful half-volley into the back of the net, erupting the stands into a deafening chorus of “Keano, Keano,” to an emotional and thanksgiving Keane who waved graciously to his flock for a final time.
Before the break Ireland had a third when Robbie Brady turned provider with a slick cross which Jonathan Walters glanced into the bottom far corner of the goal in an excellent move along the right hand side – Martin O’Neill’s side heading into the break 3-0 to the good.
With Ireland’s opening World Cup 2018 qualifier against Serbia on Monday night in mind, O’Neill withdrew all of Westwood, Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan and Shane Long before the inevitable moment came to pass.
Robbie Keane departed a sadly quarter-empty stadium, however the absence of bums on seats for a game versus Oman was more than made up by the rapturous round of applause poured down from each and every spectator inside the ground, all standing to attention on their feet in recognition of their talisman and captain, never to see him line out for his country again following a virtuous end to a captivating career.
Back to the field of play and Jonathan Walters added to an impressive display on the night with his second. Following a quick break which caught Oman unawares, Walters managed to get to a loose through ball just in time to see his touch around the sprawling figure of goalkeeper Al Rushaidi who could only watch as Walters slotted home a neat finish into the far post for 4-0.
The gap in quality between the sides – Oman ranked 82nd in the world to Ireland’s 32nd - was visible from the off. The Arab nation drew 2-2 with First Division champions Limerick earlier this week and struggled throughout this friendly with late chances coming for James McClean and Wes Hoolahan as the friendly meandered towards a 4-0 conclusion.
Robbie Keane, teary-eyed pitchside, ended his Irish career as he lived it – on the scoresheet, leading from the frontline and playing in full-blooded passion and appreciation for the country he wore the shirt for and, despite a later stage absent of a starting position, the country he was always willing and able to take the call from.
Ireland: Kieran Westwood (Darren Randolph 45); Cyrus Christie, Marc Wilson, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady (Stephen Ward 45), Stephen Quinn (Callum O’Dowda 64), Glenn Whelan (Jeff Hendrick, 45), Harry Arter, Jon Walters, Shane Long (James McClean 45), Robbie Keane (Wes Hoolahan 57).
Subs not used: Gary Rodgers, Richard Keogh, Daryl Murphy, David Meyler, Alex Pearce, Paul McShane, Eunan O’Kane.
Bookings: Marc Wilson (71).
Oman: Faiz Al Rushaidi; Andu Sallam Amur Almukhaini, Abdulaziz Humaid Mubarak Al Muqbali (Said Obaid Juma Aal Sbdulsalam 87), Harib Jamil Zaid Al Saadi, Mahmoud Mabrook Al Mushaifri (Ahmed Saleem Thuwaini Al Mukhain 45), Mataz Saleh Abd Raboh Bait (Ali Sulaiman Rashid Al Busaidi), Mohsin Jouhar Bilal Al Khaldi, Nadir Awadh Bashir Bait Mabrook, Omar Mohammed Rashid Al Malki (Husam Saleem Said Al Shuabi 75), Raed Ibrahim Saleh, Yaseen Khalil Abdallah Al Shyadi.
Bookings: Harib Jamil Zaid Al Saadi (50).
Referee: Demetries Masias.
Attendance: 27,000 (estimate).
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Jonathan Walters (Ireland).