World Cup 2002: Robbie Keane cartwheels into Irish folklore

There were a lot of memorable scenes at the 2002 World Cup. One that gets forgotten a lot is that Robbie Keane’s celebration was broadcast live across the world.

At age 12, I’d already reached proficiency. The gun fingers follow the cartwheel into the forward roll. Until the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea, it was little unknown outside of both countries. By the time the tournament was over, word had spread.

For context, after the events in Saipan, Roy Keane was not available to play for the Republic of Ireland. Steve Staunton, Jason McAteer, Niall Quinn, and Gary Kelly were all veterans of the 1994 World Cup and were part of Mick McCarthy’s seasoned roster of international players. You, then, are¬†young people with aspirations to become household names. For instance, 23-year-old Damien Duff had recently completed his return season in the Premier League. The burden was on Keane to produce, even though the fact that Clinton Morrison had been called up after his goalscoring heroics in the First Division for Crystal Palace.

The ‘Our World Cups’ series continues with Harry Symeou as he is joined by Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to reflect on the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan. Come along with us as we revisit the past.

With the career he went on to have, it’s easy to forget that Keane had only scored three goals for Leeds United since making his loan move from Inter permanent.

He went on to score a ton of goals for his club and nation, but at age 21, he was probably included in the team more for his potential than his actual play.

McCarthy’s squad opened their campaign with a 1-1 tie against Cameroon, which proved to be a significant result. Keane nearly won it with a long-range right-footed shot that was denied by the post after Matt Holland had given the teams a 1-1 halftime score.

The next game was the same story. Because of the late start time, everything about this seemed correct.

Although Germany took the lead in the first half thanks to a goal from Miroslav Klose, they were unable to pull away and win by the lopsided score of 8-0, as they did in their first game.

“Cartwheels on the pitch, chaos in the stands, in Ireland, and in my house.”

As time expired in the match against Germany, Niall Quinn flicked on Steve Finnan’s long punt. Keane caught it, and his shot was delayed by a tackle, but he eventually managed to wrap his foot around the ball and send it into the net. While Oliver Khan did manage to get his head on the ball, it wasn’t enough to deflect it in the desired direction. Instead of going all the way through the goal, it clipped the post.

This resulted in chaos not just on the field, but also in the stands, throughout Ireland, and my own home.

The goal was the only one Germany let in until the championship game. And the purity of its design was striking.

Then, in the final game of the group stage, Keane scored the first goal against Saudi Arabia. Before Damien Duff scored his first World Cup goal, Gary Breen tacked on a second. The goalie redirected his well-struck shot into his ownnet.

With their first win of the tournament under their belt, they were assured of second place, one point ahead of Cameroon. They were rewarded with a matchup against Spain in the round of 16.