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Robbie Keane’s verdict on Ireland striker Evan Ferguson

Brighton marksman Ferguson could solve Ireland’s striker crisis.

Evan Ferguson during an Ireland training session. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Kevin PalmerSunday World

Ireland have been waiting to uncover a new goal scorer since Robbie Keane hung up his boots and now the former master believes Evan Ferguson could be ready to follow in his footsteps.

Goals have been lacking for Ireland since Keane's record breaking international career ended in 2016, with the striker who fired 68 goals for his countr giving his verdict on Brighton teenager Ferguson to Betway.

“The emergence of Evan Ferguson has been great to watch,” said Keane.

"It’s a big thing for Ireland to have someone who is playing on a regular basis for a top-10 Premier League club. I’ve always said that we need to have our best players playing in the best leagues if we want to achieve something and Evan is doing that at a wonderful club like Brighton.

“He’s got huge potential and a real chance of fulfilling that because he seems to be so level-headed and has clearly been managed well.

"We’ve seen that he can score goals too, and as a nation we’ve been crying out for someone who can do that on a regular basis.

“Hopefully he can be the man to take that responsibility for Ireland going forward, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. He’s a young kid and I know what it’s like to have pressure at that stage of your career. I was lucky enough to overcome it and score many goals.

"Evan’s his own person and his own player, and I think he’s got something special.”

Keane is also positive about Ireland’s hopes of defying the odds and progressing to the Euro 2024 finals in a group that features France and Holland.

Greece will also battle it out for qualification alongside Ireland in a competitive group and Keane hopes memories of his time in major tournaments can inspire Stephen Kenny’s Class of 2023.

"Ireland have got a tough draw this year with the Netherlands and France in the group, but when I was playing we always had a history of playing two big nations in qualifying,” he added.

“We got drawn against Portugal and the Netherlands in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup and nobody gave us a chance.

“You always look to see who you’re playing and it’s only natural to notice the big names first. At that time, both of them had so many as well.

“Luis Figo and Rui Costa spring to mind for Portugal. For the Netherlands, we were up against Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars and the list goes on. You name a world class European footballer and they were probably there.

“The qualifying campaign itself was obviously great for us. To qualify out of that group was fantastic because the expectation from everybody was that we would lose.

“But we knew as a group that we’d always have a chance against anyone. Playing at the old Lansdowne Road, we never feared anyone regardless of their quality.

“The atmosphere when we beat the Netherlands 1-0, I still think to this day, is probably one of the best I’ve ever been involved in. It was a sell-out at Lansdowne Road, it was incredible.

“What a great goal from Jason McAteer. I think at one stage they had five strikers on the pitch, and not just ordinary strikers but big names. It was an unbelievable achievement from us to win that.”

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