Amber Barrett scored surely the most important goal in the history of women’s football in the Republic of Ireland, to secure Vera Pauw’s impressive side a ticket to their first major tournament.
Barrett’s stellar second‑half finish booked Ireland an unexpected flight to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup finals next summer, leaving Scotland – and Caroline Weir especially – reflecting on what might have been.
On as a substitute, Barrett – a trainee schoolteacher turned professional striker for Germany’s Turbine Potsdam – secured a major upset as the favourites never recovered from Weir’s first‑half penalty miss and ended up losing this European playoff final at a somewhat stunned Hampden Park.
“I can’t believe it,” an overjoyed Pauw said. “Amber’s first touch made the game; I just can’t believe it. How is this possible for us?”
The home fans should have known better than to underestimate Pauw. The 59-year-old Dutchwoman managed Scotland from 1998 to 2004, exceeding the call of duty to help ensure women’s football started to be taken seriously north of Hadrian’s Wall. Part of her legacy could be seen on Tuesday night in the 10,708 crowd, a record attendance for a competitive Scotland women’s game.
Relishing this return to her former Hampden habitat, Pauw showed off all the streetwise experience collected during subsequent postings in charge of the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa and Houston Dash to outwit Scotland’s Spanish coach, Pedro Martínez Losa. Formerly in charge of Arsenal, Martínez Losa watched horrified as Erin Cuthbert and Claire Emslie were among key home players negated by Pauw’s well‑structured back five.
Martínez Losa’s pre-match ambition of “inspiring a generation” of young Scottish footballers by guiding his side to a second successive World Cup encountered an early setback when, having secured a penalty for handball against Niamh Fahey, Weir saw her spot‑kick brilliantly parried clear by Courtney Brosnan.
“Courtney’s penalty save wasn’t luck,” Pauw said. “We knew where it was going. Preparation is everything and we were ready for every scenario. We trained for every situation.”
Pauw’s goalkeeper was outstanding throughout but Weir, whose bright interchange with Fiona Brown had landed Fahey in trouble, looked extremely disappointed not to have evaded Brosnan’s reach.
Megan Campbell’s long throws frequently fazed Scotland and they had reason for relief when one hurled in with particular venom flew straight into the back of the net. With no player having touched it en route it was automatically disallowed but the home defence must have been mightily relieved Ireland’s lurking Lily Agg did not manage to capitalise on apparently crossed wires between their goalkeeper Lee Gibson and Sophie Howard.
Martínez Losa had another fright when Áine O’Gorman subsequently connected with Katie McCabe’s cross and directed a header wastefully wide from five yards. Maybe it was Scottish nerves, the usually creative Cuthbert’s unusually defensive midfield role or perhaps simply a reflection of Ireland’s counter-attacking progress under Pauw but half‑time could not come soon enough for a visibly stressed Scotland manager.
Pauw, though, probably spent the break ruing Irish ill luck after her side concluded the opening 45 minutes by conjuring a treble chance which, in extremely quick succession, saw Howard twice clear the ball off the line and Gibson save smartly as Agg, Denise O’Sullivan and Fahey all came mighty close to scoring.
Although Scotland raised their game significantly at the start of the second half such superiority proved thoroughly deceptive, turning academic as Barrett silenced Hampden.
Not for the first time Scotland were guilty of a slapdash loss of possession and, accelerating on to O’Sullivan’s inch-perfect through-ball courtesy of the surest of first touches, a fast‑breaking Barrett advanced with incision and intelligence, eluding the onrushing Gibson courtesy of a coolly accomplished right-foot finish.
As several Scotland players greeted the final whistle with tears, their manager said sorry to his supporters. “I’m very disappointed – for the girls and for the whole nation,” said Martínez Losa, whose side enjoyed more than 70% of the possession but failed to maximise it. “We wanted to qualify for the World Cup so badly I apologise to the fans. The opposition executed their gameplan well – and we didn’t get the little details right.”
Barrett dedicated her historic goal to the 10 victims of the Creeslough tragedy. “My grandparents are born and bred there,” explained the Donegal native. “I spend my holidays there with my uncle. I know people who died in the tragedy, who were affected by it, who were first on the scene.
“I’m dedicating this result and the goal to the 10 beautiful souls who unfortunately perished, for all their families. I know they touched their lives and they have touched ours. This is for Cresslough. This is for Donegal.”