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World Cup Warm-Up: Amber Barrett On Glasgow, Ronaldo, And Tshabalala

World Cup Warm-Up: Amber Barrett On Glasgow, Ronaldo, And Tshabalala
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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The knock on effect of a winter World Cup means that the summer felt strangely bereft of football, especially off the back of a packed summer of sport in 2021 which carried a European Championships, Olympic Games, and a Lions Tour.

Next summer, we will have a summer World Cup to look forward to, when the women's tournament kicks off in Australia and New Zealand and, for the first time in 21 years, Ireland will be there.

Vera Pauw's Irish side qualified for their first ever international tournament thanks to Amber Barrett's tidy finish in the decisive play-off in Glasgow, and will face off with Australia, Canada, and Nigeria in next year's competition.

As part of our World Cup Warm-Up series, we spoke to Barrett in the leadup to Qatar 2022, about her expectations for next year's tournament, her predictions for the fast-approaching men's tournament, and her favourite memories of watching World Cups down the years.

Amber Barrett on World Cups 2022 and 2023

For Irish football fans, the 11th of October 2022 will go down as one of the greatest nights in the sport's history on this island, as Donegal's Amber Barrett sent the women's team to their first ever World Cup.

11 October 2022; Amber Barrett of Republic of Ireland scores her side's first goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Play-off match between Scotland and Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The celebrations were rampant in Ireland, but the players had far less time to revel in the occasion. We spoke to Amber over Zoom during the Irish team's training camp in Spain last weekend, where they played two friendlies against Morocco. - and she said that it was the first time the squad had been together since that win in Scotland:

I think the best part [of the Morocco games] was getting back together after everything that happened in Glasgow. Obviously the turnaround from the game to the next day when everybody had to pack up and go back to their clubs and everything.

Everybody said when they got to Spain that they would love to have gotten the chance to stay together after that game a wee bit longer. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. But everybody's back in the last few days and feeling good, and really looking forward to building and looking forward to a World Cup.

The draw for Ireland could have been much worse - they have avoided the USA, England, and Spain - but it is nonetheless a tough one, with a strong calibre of teams including host nation Australia. Barrett says the Irish team are not daunted:

When we got pulled out with the hosts, the Olympic champions, the best African team, I think we were honestly just amazed to be a part of it. Yes, it will be difficult, but it's a World Cup, so it should be!

Having Ireland at a World Cup next year will be a fantastic experience - and one that a generation of football fans have never experienced.

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Of course, they will be missing from the men's tournament this year, which kicks off on Sunday with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador. It has been 20 years since Ireland qualified for the World Cup.

11 June 2002; Damien Duff of Republic of Ireland bows to the crowd after scoring his side's third goal during the FIFA World Cup Final Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Saudi Arabia at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

That 2002 edition took place in Japan and South Korea, meaning every game was a morning kick off in Ireland - and Barrett has fond memories of watching Ireland's group games on an old television in school - though it may have been the Germany or Saudi Arabia games she watched, as the Cameroon game took place on the opening Saturday of the tournament:

In terms of Irish teams being involved, I'd have to go back to 2002. Even though I was only six, I remember watching Ireland play Cameroon in one of the opening games of the World Cup.

I'm nearly 90% sure we watched that in school. I remember the principal had wheeled the old TV into the room and we were all sitting up the front of the room watching it. Half the school was all packed into this one classroom to watch the game!

Between that game and the infamous Robbie Keane goal against Germany with the last kick of the game, those are the two games that really stuck out for me in that campaign.

This year's World Cup will similarly take place with games filling the morning, with the group stages featuring a game at 10am Irish time every day. With the women's game powering on for the months of November and December, it means that the experience will be unfamiliar for Barrett - and for football fans across Ireland.

One of the things with the Women's EUROs during the summer - there was an air of people making a day out of it, thinking 'well, there's three games in the evening, I might go out and meet my friend for a couple of pints and watch the game.'

Unfortunately, when a game is on at 10 in the morning, that's not going to be part and parcel of it. Now, there'll still be a few who may have their few wee cans with them as well, but...

I'm going to try and watch it as much as I can, but it's going to clash a lot with my training schedule with my club, so it's not going to be a case of being able to sit down and watch every game.

It will undoubtedly be a strange World Cup, and we can only hope that the fan experience on the ground in Qatar is an enjoyable one - though the early signs are not great.

Qatar 2022 will take a lot to match the fan energy seen at previous World Cups such as Brazil in 2014, or South Africa in 2010. It is that first African World Cup that Amber Barrett says her most memorable goal from the tournament comes from:

I think the opening goal South Africa scored against Mexico in 2010 - the vuvuzelas in the background, the place went absolutely crazy. Also, a great bloody finish! That is one of those World Cup moments that you'll never forget and, when it's replayed, you just think "what an occasion".

It's hard to argue with Barrett's selection. Just listen to the noise in Johannesburg when the ball hits the net!

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One of Barrett's favourite ever World Cup sides come from that 2010 World Cup, and the Uruguay team which finished in fourth place.

Their run to the semi-finals saw them break African hearts in the last eight against Ghana, but even Luis Suarez's last minute handball did not sour Barrett's memory of a stylish team:

Luis Suarez absolutely dominated, Diego Forlan was absolutely unbelievable. Two unbelievable strikers.

I don't think United got to see the best of Diego Forlan - when he went to Atletico Madrid, he was a different animal altogether. Unfortunately United didn't get to see what he could do.

But with him and Luis Suarez and, of course, the infamous handball and the red card and everything that came through there.

Uruguay always just seemed to play good football - but they always have that little bit of flair about them as well.

Maybe this time around they could do that again. They're always a team I enjoy to watch.

We can only hope for such magic moments in 2022, in what is set to be one of the most open World Cups in recent memory.

There is no clear favourite for the tournament, with all of the big sides having question marks beside their contention for the crown.

Of course, this will be the last World Cup for two of football's greats, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo highly unlikely to make it to the next edition in 2026, given their age.

All of the noise in the buildup to the tournament has surrounded Messi, with the World Cup the last prize missing from his glittering career. Shay Given and Richie Sadlier are among those who have said that their dream for 2022 is to see Messi lift the trophy on December 18, but Manchester United fan Barrett would rather see his Portuguese counterpart go all the way.

(We should preface this by stating that our chat with Barrett took place before Ronaldo's bombshell interview with Piers Morgan)

By the time the next World Cup comes around, we won't be mentioning Messi and Ronaldo in the team selections for Argentina and for Portugal.

Of course you want the fairytale ending of one of them to get it - being a big United fan, I'm veering towards Ronaldo, hoping that he gets some accolades there in the next few weeks.

In saying that...for what Messi's done for football and how he's really changed the face for football - there's a lot of it that you'd love him to get his final curtain call. Arguably, he is one of the best, if not the greatest player of all time.

Portugal are never far away if Ronaldo gets his shooting boots on.

There is also the question of Neymar's Brazil, and Barrett points out that the Selecao's number 10 compares with the best in the world in numbers, but has never quite been recognised in the same bracket due to his more illustrious teammates down the years.

Neymar will hope to lead Brazil to a first World Cup in 20 years in Qatar (Photo: Shutterstock)

Taking head over heart when judging the potential winners, Amber Barrett thinks that Neymar may finally usurp Messi and Ronaldo, and lead Brazil to their first World Cup in 20 years.

Personally, I just can't look past Brazil. Looking at their attack, and the players that they are able to bring in - you have Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Richarlison - these are top, top, top quality players, and one of them is not going to play in every game.

And, with a World Cup, there is always the matter of England.

Ireland's favourite footballing soap opera once again arrive at a World Cup with dreams of winning a first major men's international trophy in 56 years. Their wait for international silverware was ended at the Women's EUROs this summer - and Barrett sneakily hopes that that will be the only success seen for the country this year:

I'm just hoping that the women took all the good luck with them in the summer and the boys don't get any of it, to be perfectly honest!

The problem I've always had with England is that the English players are always talked high up in terms of quality - and some of them are - but they nearly seem to undermine countries with players of equal quality, just because they're not playing with England. That's to do with the Premier League as well, the more players that play in the Premier League, the more highly they rate them.

Typical England, they've got a decent group, should get out with no real problems. Honestly, though, I don't see them getting past the quarter finals.

England's EURO 2020 final run came at the expense of Denmark in the semi-finals - but Barrett believes that the Danish team have kicked on from that defeat, and has them pencilled in as one of her dark horses for the tournament, alongside Mexico.

She is also tipping the Netherlands to succeed under ex-Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, as a team who have gone under the radar in the leadup to the tournament.

It is an open World Cup like we have not seen in years, and there are fan favourites on display everywhere.

There will be morning games throughout the tournament, and we can only hope that the world's best can inspire the next generation of football lovers in the same way Amber Barrett and so many others were inspired in 2002.

SEE ALSO: World Cup Warm-Up: Paul Howard On Saipan, Spain 1982, And Messi

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