Ireland delight as Amber Barrett sends them to World Cup amid Scotland woe | Women’s World Cup 2023

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.”

Sophie Ingle calls on Wales to believe they can achieve World Cup dream | Women’s World Cup 2023

Sophie Ingle says Wales’s players “have to believe that we can get a result” against Switzerland in their World Cup playoff on Tuesday night.

Wales travel to Switzerland bidding to book their place in next year’s finals in Australia and New Zealand having beaten Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 in Cardiff last Thursday. Victory will not automatically seal a World Cup spot, however, with Scotland hosting the Republic of Ireland and Portugal meeting Iceland and only two of the winning teams qualifying directly on the basis of their qualification records. The country that misses out will go into an inter-confederation playoff in February.

“It is complicated, but it’s competitive,” the Wales manager, Gemma Grainger, said. “It keeps you on your toes. These games are knockout games. The only other way you play knockout games is in tournaments. So what a great experience for us to have to think about the possibility of extra-time, to have to think about the possibility of penalties. Knowing that we go through that as a team is such a thing for us to do.”

The Chelsea midfielder Ingle said: “It’s like another cup final. It’s probably our 12th cup final of this campaign. We’ve had a lot of games and at this level they’re all as important as the next. We’ve been on a journey, but we want to go one better and get the win.”

The Scotland manager, Pedro Martínez Losa, admitted that his side must “have a belief in what we are doing” ahead of their game with the Republic of Ireland at Hampden Park, where it is expected the women’s team will break its attendance record.

“We are in the best place that we could be,” Martínez Losa said. “It’s one opportunity potentially every four years. We just prepare for a final. We prepared for one final and now we are preparing for another.

It’s an incredible opportunity to be involved and play in a World Cup and inspire a generation of players and make the game better.”

Scotland finished runners-up in Group B, behind Spain, and Wales finished runners-up in Group I, behind France, to earn their places in the playoffs. Martínez Losa’s side secured a 1-0 win in extra-time against the Euro 2022 quarter-finalists Austria to set up the second-round match with the Republic of Ireland, while Wales also needed extra-time to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina and secure the tie with Switzerland.

Abigail Harrison sinks Austria to put Scotland on verge of World Cup | Women’s World Cup 2023

For Abigail Harrison and Scotland, the moment was worth waiting for. This game was in extra time when Harrison stooped to head Erin Cuthbert’s corner into the net. Austria appealed in vain for a handball as Harrison enjoyed euphoric celebration.

Scotland will return to Hampden Park on Tuesday, when they will face the Republic of Ireland for a berth in Australia and New Zealand next summer. On this evidence, the Scots will not trouble the leading lights in that tournament but focusing on such shortcomings would be churlish. Scotland emerged from this dour, tense battle. Semi-finals are rarely pretty. This one was played in front of 10,182; a record for a Scottish women’s competitive game.

Austria’s progress to the semi-finals and quarter-finals in successive European Championships rendered them strong pre-match favourites. Scotland did not even qualify for the latter of those tournaments. Nicole Billa, who scored 13 times during the group stages of qualifying, led the visiting attack.

The hosts, though, opened brightly. Martha Thomas almost beat Manuela Zinsberger to the ball, 18 yards from goal, before Caroline Weir’s chipped effort was held by the Austria goalkeeper. In appalling conditions, this promised to be an attritional evening.

It took until midway through the first half for Billa to be afforded a sight of goal. The Hoffenheim forward’s curling effort landed on the roof of Lee Alexander’s net. Moments earlier, the Scotland captain Rachel Corsie had halted a promising Austrian counterattack.

Scotland continued on the front foot. Only the late and crucial intervention of Laura Wienroither prevented Claire Emslie from sending the hosts in front. Weir, now of Real Madrid, was unsurprisingly central to all of Scotland’s promising play.

Austria’s defender look on powerlessly as Abigail Harrison’s header goes towards the net
Austria’s defender look on powerlessly as Abigail Harrison’s header goes towards the net. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Austria finished the first period in dominant fashion. Julia Hickelsberger clipped the bar with a 20-yard shot. Yet the applause that greeted the half-time whistle was in response to a strong Scottish display. All Pedro Martínez Losa’s side lacked was ruthlessness in front of goal.

Realisation of the high stakes seemed in play during a cagey second period. Semi-finals are often poor in terms of standard. By the hour mark, neither goalkeeper had been called into serious action. Alexander’s fumble from a Verena Hanshaw free-kick almost posed a problem for Scotland but the ball was scrambled to safety. Scotland’s failure to hand Weir sufficient time on the ball was responsible for their sudden lack of invention. This had become a scrappy, messy contest. Hanshaw looked to raise the standard, courtesy of a fierce long-range drive which flew wide of Alexander’s left-hand post.

Hampden prayed for inspiration. The substitute Fiona Brown tried to provide it, with a header which failed to trouble Zinsberger. It had become increasingly apparent that the opening goal may well define the victor and, indeed, that extra-time was a very real possibility. The situation was of benefit to Ireland, who could look on as Scotland and Austria slugged it out for the right to play them.

Sarah Zadrazil’s darting run beyond the Scotland defence preceded a shot which sailed into the Glasgow air. The industrious Abigail Harrison won Scotland a corner, from which no player could connect. It had become that kind of evening. Even Weir, normally so reliable, dragged an attempt well wide after breaking free from the shackles of an aggressive Austria midfield. Weir still looked the hosts’ best hope.

The finest opportunity of regular time was soon afforded to Austria’s Katja Wienerroither. Having bounded Sophie Howard off the ball, she had just Alexander to beat. She miscued her shot totally, meaning Alexander was not even forced into a save.

Confirmation of four minutes of stoppage time triggered the loudest Hampden roar of the evening. It also saw Scotland win a flurry of corners. From one, Howard’s cut backheel failed to find a woman in navy blue. From another, Zinsberger desperately punched clear. Onwards to another half hour it was. No onlooker could reasonably argue with that scenario. World Cup places apparently do not come easily.