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Robbie Keane is back in the land where his football dreams came true - and he’ll soon return to the scene of triumph and despair.
The striker earned superstar status with his goals for the Republic of Ireland in the 2002 World Cup staged in Japan and South Korea.
He is now back in Asia as we prepare for the Peace Cup and games against Boca Juniors on Saturday, Sundowns on Monday and Real Sociedad next Thursday.
Just 21 at the time, Robbie scored three goals in the World Cup including a last-minute equaliser against Germany in the group stages in Japan before moving to South Korea and a last 16 clash against Spain at Suwon — where we’ll play our first two matches against Argentina giants Boca and South African outfit Sundowns.
Unbelievably, Robbie repeated the feat against the Spanish. Having seen a penalty missed by Ian Harte earlier in the game, Ireland trailed 1-0 when they were awarded another spot kick in injury time. Up stepped Robbie who scored from 12 yards to take the game into extra time.
David Connolly was inches away from a ‘Golden Goal’ winner before a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out. Robbie scored again but Ireland lost 3-2.
Naturally, Robbie has only fond memories of those days. “It’s every kid’s dream to play in the World Cup. When I was growing up I watched the World Cup but you never think you will play in it.
“That was my chance and luckily enough we played well and I scored a few goals. It’s something I’ll never forget.
“It’s strange because it doesn’t seem like the World Cup when you are there. It doesn’t feel like when I used to watch Maradona scoring and thinking that you are in the same tournament.
“It doesn’t hit me even now, to be honest, even though I’ve played in it. I’ve been fortunate. My dream was to play in the World Cup and score and was lucky enough to do both of them. I was 21 at the time - a dream come true.
“It was a great occasion and the people over there made it even more special because they are such friendly people and did everything they could for you.”
Robbie will be back in Suwon for our Peace Cup opener against Boca Juniors on Saturday and Monday’s match against South African outfit Sundowns. We then move to Ulsan for the final group match of the tournament against Real Sociedad.
“I remember Suwon as a great stadium, a little like White Hart Lane in how the stands go all the way around,” recalled Robbie, who turned 25 last week.
“I remember running out that night and seeing all the green flags, there were so many Irish fans there. It was a great day even though we lost, a special occasion.
“There are great teams out here and it will be a great experience against the likes of Boca Juniors. At the end of the day it’s all about fitness preparations for the new season but these are quality teams and you want that. Quality teams bring the best out of you.”