John Herdman: the mastermind who has led Canada to the men’s and women’s World Cups | Canada

John Herdman stands in front of a yellow conference room wall, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, off to the side of a projector screen. It displays a quote from Sun Tzu in one corner and a dramatic description of a wildfire along the bottom. He leans into the latter.

“It gains a terrifying momentum. That’s what it gains – a terrifying momentum. This red shirt, this team,” the Canada manager tells his players. “It consumes everything in its path: Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Aruba, Suriname … and then you’ll be ready. What a fucking journey.”

If the identities of the four teams in that path somewhat detract from the speech, they really shouldn’t. This is the world that Canada’s men’s national team were operating in just a year and a half ago. Next week Herdman, an Englishman who has become a hero in Canada, will send his team out to face Belgium in the country’s first men’s World Cup match for nearly four decades.

The speech is one of the first stirring moments from WeCAN, a behind-the-scenes series charting Canada’s rollicking run through Concacaf qualifying en route to Qatar. There are plenty more. But in truth, this is all merely part of the journey.

Just one Canadian player was born before Mexico 86, the last time the country played on the game’s grandest stage – indomitable skipper Atiba Hutchinson who turns 40 in February. Much is rightly made of the rawness and inexperience of the team he captains. But Herdman, the 47-year-old former teacher from Durham, does not lack for experience. Qatar, remarkably, will be the fourth senior World Cup of a management career that started in earnest 16 years ago.

Herdman talks about history as something to be torn up or rewritten, to be challenged or made and remade. When asked last week what it meant to him to be the first manager ever to take a team to a men’s and women’s World Cup, he spoke of how pivotal it is to be “practicing what I preach”.

The preaching is, and appears to have always been, the key part of Herdman’s practice. Spend time with any of those who he’s brought with him on his journey from skills camps in northern England and doubters at the Sunderland Academy to grassroots roles in New Zealand that turned to national team jobs there and in Canada, and the talk always comes back to the talk. Herdman is a master of motivation.

“John is built for these kind of tournaments,” says Melissa Tancredi, the former Canadian stalwart who played under Herdman at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. “He’s been through it all. He’s been through one at home [in Canada] when we all felt that pressure so I don’t think that there’s any inexperience with John.

“This man has something that most managers don’t and that’s his ability to actually connect with players and get the absolute best out of them. He’s a mastermind. I’ve never had, or heard of, a coach who is able to connect with players like he does. He’s an absolute beauty in terms of a motivator. He has that ability to calm the situation or bring it to where he needs to bring it, he’s a calibrator. You don’t really learn that, it’s something you’re innately given.”

While Herdman has undoubtedly grown as a tactician during his years in the international game, Tancredi’s argument that the psychological and cultural skills were a feature from the jump is backed up by those who were there at the start.

Wendi Henderson was long since retired from the New Zealand national team and was feeling her way back into club football, initially for fun, in 2006 when someone approached her on the sidelines in Wellington.

“It was John Herdman. He said he’d just been appointed as Football Ferns manager and asked: ‘Where are you at?’” Henderson says. “I started laughing. ‘Where am I at? I’m 35 and retired three years ago!’”

John Herdman celebrates with his players at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada
John Herdman celebrates with his players at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Photograph: Dan Riedlhuber/EPA

Henderson would soon be on a plane to China for a two-match tour, Herdman handing her the captain’s armband for both. She’d retired on 48 caps but now rang up her half century as a new era dawned under a manager four years her junior.

“He and I used to laugh about the age difference,” adds Henderson. “But he had a way of really connecting with people and drawing them in to the journey. He has done that with every team he has coached and you can see it. You can see the goosebumps. It instantly takes me back to those moments, making us want to die for each other and die for our country.”

Henderson led the line at Herdman’s first World Cup, the 2007 women’s edition where he set up his side to contain their opponents. By the time the 2011 tournament rolled around, the journey had progressed and Henderson watched a more expansive Ferns side. Herdman’s motivational skillset was being sharpened too. Defender Kirsty Hill, on the 2011 team, shared with Herdman a Maori saying that he has often come back to: “You have to touch someone’s heart before you can take them by the hand.”

New Zealand had touched the Herdman family. His son Jay now represents their U-19s. But there was a new calling. Canadian hearts were barely beating when Herdman arrived in the country in 2011. Canada had been the worst performer at that year’s Women’s World Cup.

“We were completely broken,” recalls retired defender Emily Zurrer, who was also part of that 2015 squad. “Some of us were thinking about hanging up our boots and here’s this guy talking about being on a podium and seeing our flag rise … and very quickly he instilled that belief in us. It wasn’t this false sense of belief, it was: ‘Holy shit we can actually do something here with this guy leading our way’. He’s not just talk, he’s the hardest working person I’ve met in my life.”

Herdman guided the women to back-to-back Olympic bronzes before they went two better at Tokyo last year. It’s therefore understandably hard to find dissenting voices, anyone left unmotivated by all the talk. Would his earnestness have such a runway in the more cynical confines of his homeland? We may one day find out. Herdman is a demanding leader but surrounds himself with a staff who know the drill. One minor criticism is that he perhaps wants to be liked too much and delays hard conversations. His jump from the women to the men in 2018 was hugely controversial and Herdman has admitted regret about how it was handled, particularly a hurried apology to veteran captain Christine Sinclair.

With Croatia and Morocco alongside Belgium, Group F in Qatar looks daunting. But then so did getting there. What’s remarkable is that the same powers of persuasion and motivation that brought Henderson, a city worker in her mid-30s, back to a World Cup in 2007 was just as effective in 2021 in convincing someone like Alphonso Davies, a $100,000-a-week Champions League winner barely out of his teens, that he could guide Canada there too.

Tancredi, Zurrer and Henderson give knowing smiles when they hear Davies say he’d “run through a brick wall” for Herdman. The coach is doing it again.

And it’s a lot more than Sun Tzu quotes. Before a ball had been kicked in qualifying Herdman arranged mocked-up Canadian front pages celebrating World Cup qualification and passed them to the players. History there to be written. On a Zoom call recently from his home office, Herdman had a freshly hung poster from Mexico 86, where Canada played three, lost three and didn’t score a goal. History there to be remade. Nothing would surprise his former charges.

“John works best with his back against the wall,” says Tancredi, a sentiment Zurrer echoed. “He loves to be the underdog, it’s where he thrives. That’s where he has shown with our team and with this men’s team: the more you doubt him, the more work he’s going to put in to prove you wrong.”

What a journey.

Vera Pauw insists ‘no excuses’ for chant as Ireland face tough World Cup draw | Republic of Ireland women’s football team

The Republic of Ireland manager, Vera Pauw, says it is right Uefa has opened an investigation after her players were filmed singing a pro-IRA songafter their qualification for their first World Cup.

After being drawn in a treacherous group with Canada, Australia and Nigeria for the 2023 tournament, Pauw hopes the focus can soon turn to football and the significant inroads made by the country’s governing body to address gender inequality.

Ireland’s first major finals berth became mired in controversy last week when the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) apologised for a video that showed the team celebrating their qualifying playoff win over Scotland in their Hampden Park dressing room. In the clip, player are seen singing “Ooh ah, up the ’RA” – words associated with support for the Irish Republican Army.

“We did something wrong,” the Dutch manager said. “As soon as you hurt one person, you’ve done something wrong. But the players didn’t mean anything. That’s not an excuse, but our players are going out always to the schools, to kids, to clubs. We are always there to be a role model for others.

“Such a shame that this happened because nobody meant anything with it. I hope that we go into football now,. There is a Uefa investigation, which is correct because there was a claim in it, and we need to face what’s coming out.

“But let me be clear: there’s no excuses and I hope that we’ve learned from it that you can sing the song your team is embracing, but you have to know your background.”

Republic of Ireland players celebrate their playoff victory at Hampden Park.
Republic of Ireland players celebrate their playoff victory at Hampden Park. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Images

Ireland are ranked 24th in the world and will make their tournament bow in the spotlight, as they face co-hosts Australia in Sydney on the opening day, 20 July. They beat the Matildas 3-2 in Dublin last year in what Pauw called “a turning point” that instilled “real belief that we can do something and grow”.

“We are just going to live to the full and embrace it,” she said at the draw in Auckland on Saturday. “The more pressure, the better. It’s about a task that you have to execute, it’s not about how many people are in the stands. The bigger the stage, the better, because this is what we dreamed for.”

Quick Guide

Women’s World Cup 2023 draw


Group A: New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland

Group B: Australia, Ireland, Nigeria, Canada

Group C: Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan

Group D: England, Playoff B winner*, Denmark, China

Group E: United States, Vietnam, Netherlands, Playoff A winner*

Group F: France, Jamaica, Brazil, Playoff C winner*

Group G: Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina

Group H: Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea

* The 10-team inter-confederation playoffs will take place in New Zealand from 18-23 February next year.
Playoff A: Cameroon/Thailand v Portugal
Playoff B: Senegal/Haiti v Chile
Playoff C: Taiwan/Paraguay v PNG/Panama

Thank you for your feedback.

The women’s game has grown exponentially in Ireland since 2017, when the national team went on strike after accusing the FAI of failing to provide adequate support, including being forced to get changed in public toilets on the way to matches and sharing tracksuits with youth-team squads. After mediation, they were granted improved earnings and resources.

“It was a turning point,” Pauw said. “But it’s not only the players who demanded it and stood their ground, the FAI has responded in a way that no other associations have ever done. We have the best facilities, the same hotels as the men have, we travel in the charter [flight].

“We had earlier equal pay than many countries including the Netherlands, who are only are getting it now and they’re [2017] European champions and World Cup finalists.

“It’s turned good with the force of so many people. Not only the squad and the staff, but also the management and the press and the whole support of the nation. That togetherness is the strength of this team. It’s not any more us against others, but it’s all together and everybody pushes us to higher heights.”

Women’s World Cup 2023: the complete group-by-group preview | Women’s World Cup 2023

Group A – New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Switzerland

Co-hosts New Zealand will be delighted. With the Olympic champions (Canada), the 2019 World Cup runners up (the Netherlands) and the 2011 World Cup winners (Japan) in Pot 2 there was a chance their Pot 1 placement, as a home nation, could mean little. Instead, out came Norway, thumped 8-0 by England in the group stage of the Euros, Switzerland, a team ranked one place ahead of them and debutants the Philippines. Switzerland and Norway will be favourites to progress, but New Zealand have a real chance to move on to the last 16.

Group B – Australia, Republic of Ireland, Nigeria, Canada

Canada and the Republic of Ireland have a nasty trek to and from Perth sandwiched between games on the east coast. If New Zealand have been lucky in the draw, co-host Australia have not. The Matildas have struggled of late and Canada could easily beat them to top spot, setting up a tricky tie with the winners of Group D, which will most likely be England. Upsetting an Australia and Canada one-two, whichever way round it might be, will be tough, but Nigeria and Ireland will not be walkovers.

Canada are aiming to top Group B after becoming 2019 Olympic Champions in Tokyo.
Canada are aiming to top Group B after becoming 2019 Olympic Champions in Tokyo. Photograph: DPPI/Photo Kishimoto/LiveMedia/Shutterstock

Group C – Spain, Costa Rica, Zambia, Japan

Spain and Japan will be eyeing a very smooth run to the quarter-finals. Spain’s pre-World Cup situation is complicated by the dispute of many of its senior players with the federation and coach, Jorge Vilda, but their understudies showed they can beat the best, with an unlikely victory over the injury-hit USA in a recent friendly. Costa Rica and Zambia, making a second and first appearance respectively, are unlikely to trouble Spain regardless of who is on the pitch, or Japan. With the winner and runners-up of Group A guaranteed to play lower-ranked sides a deep run is a tantalising prospect.

Group D – England, playoff B winner, Denmark, China

The draw has been kind to England with Denmark, China and the winner of playoff B (Chile, Senegal or Haiti) all unlikely to troublethem. They have also avoided the dreaded cross-country trip to Perth the other two confirmed sides have to make for their opener. The challenge comes in the last 16 as Australia or Canada potentially lie in wait. The battle for second place is where the juice is, with China, ranked 15th in the world, up against Denmark (18th in the world) and built around Pernille Harder.

Denmark’s Pernille Harder.
England need to be wary of Denmark and Pernille Harder. Photograph: Simon Dael/Shutterstock

Group E – United States, Vietnam, Netherlands, playoff A winner

A rematch of the 2019 final between USA and the Netherlands is a tasty prospect. They will be hoping to top the group to avoid a last-16 tie with likely Group E winners, Sweden, and the Netherlands will be eager to finally get the better of the USA on a big stage. One of Portugal, Cameroon or Thailand will complete the group, and the playoff winner and Vietnam are unlikely to upset the applecart.

Group F – France, Jamaica, Brazil, playoff C winner

France could do very well in 2023 if they get their act together. The off-field drama, with manager, Corinne Diacre, falling out with Eugénie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry, did surprisingly little to disrupt a strong Euros performance. Instead, it was an injury to Marie-Antoinette Katoto that caused them to stutter. Katoto is in a race against time to come back from her ACL injury for next summer but it is possible. Brazil will compete in the World Cup without influential midfielder Formiga for only the second time in the competition’s history. They have lost three, drawn three and won twice against European opposition this year, including a 2-1 defeat to France. Jamaica make their second appearance and one of Chinese Taipei, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea and Panama complete the group.

Group G – Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Argentina

Sweden will be favourites to clinch the group with their pedigree. Italy had a hugely disappointing summer, where they finished bottom of Group D at the Euros behind France, Belgium and Iceland with one point and scoring only twice. Should the Italians finish second then the winner of Group E, likely to be the USA or the Netherlands, awaits. South Africa and Argentina will be targeting improvement on the 2019 edition after the former lost all their games and the latter drew twice and lost once at the group stage.

Group H – Germany, Morocco, Colombia, South Korea

Germany are nailed on to top Group H. The Euros runners-up impressed in England and are ranked third in the world behind the USA and Sweden. Secure victory and they play the runner-up of Group F, likely to be France or Brazil, and then a possible Euros final rematch with England is on the cards. Morocco are making their World Cup debut, while Colombia failed to qualify in 2019 having reached the last 16 in 2015. South Korea offer Germany’s biggest challenge, though this is their fourth World Cup and they have qualified from the group stage once, in 2015.

Women’s World Cup 2023: England draw Denmark, China and playoff winner | Women’s World Cup 2023

England have been drawn in Group D along with Denmark, China and a qualifying playoff winner at Saturday’s 2023 Women’s World Cup draw in Auckland.

The European champions will begin their campaign in Brisbane on 22 July, but won’t know the identity of their first rival until February’s intercontinental playoffs decide the remaining three entrants in the expanded 32-team tournament.

Sarina Wiegman’s side will then head to Sydney to play Denmark on 28 July and then Adelaide to face China on 1 August, as they begin their bid to knock the two-time reigning champions, the United States, off their perch.

England avoided an early run-in with the likes of 2019 runners-up the Netherlands, who will play a rematch of that final against the USA, this time in Wellington on 27 July. Both sides are in Group E, which also features newcomers Vietnam and another playoff winner.

Co-hosts Australia, already placed into Group B, face their tallest task against reigning Olympic gold medallists Canada, to whom they lost twice in a recent friendly series, and will also come up against the Republic of Ireland, who have qualified for the first time, and Nigeria.

Fellow co-hosts New Zealand, already settled in Group A, kick off their campaign against Norway at Eden Park and will also play the Philippines and Switzerland. France, 2019 quarter-finalists at their home tournament, are in Group F alongside Jamaica, Brazil and another yet-to-be-determined playoff winner.

Spain, in the throes of a player mutiny against their manager, Jorge Vilda, are in Group C with Costa Rica, Zambia and Japan. Sweden, South Africa, Italy and Argentina make up Group G with Germany, Morocco, Colombia and South Korea together in Group H.

England are in a terrific place to better their 2019 semi-final run, on a high of their home Euros triumph and having beaten the USA 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley Stadium earlier this month.

“I think we can take on the world,” said Ian Wright, who was in attendance to help with the official business of ball-drawing. “European champions in our own backyard. The pressure they were under to produce, they did it. We’ve got a target on our back now. People want to beat us. That’s what happens when you’re a good team. We’ve proven we can beat the best – we beat the best recently.”

Also in attendance were the American two-time World Cup winner, Carli Lloyd, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, Australia’s minister for sport Anika Wells, the Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura and president Gianni Infantino, who declared that “Fifa is the official happiness provider”.

Hours earlier, at the conclusion of Saturday’s bi-annual Fifa council meeting, Infantino criticised broadcasters hoping to televise the World Cup for offering up to “100 times less” than they did for the men’s equivalent.

“When broadcasters – often public broadcasters, but also private broadcasters – offer us 100 times less for the Women’s World Cup than the men’s World Cup, even more than 100 times in some occasions, that is not acceptable,” said Infantino, who added that the tournament would cost Fifa around $US400m. “We are not going to accept this.”

‘An unbeatable moment to leverage’: 2023 Women’s World Cup must win hearts to change minds | Women’s World Cup 2023

Sarai Bareman is in her third week back from maternity leave. Straight on a plane from Zurich to Auckland, then Sydney, and soon back to Auckland. Not so much wrenching herself away from her new normal, more just adding full-time work to the full-time-mother equation. “It’s been an absolute baptism of fire,” she says. “It’s a whole different struggle.”

Of course, her six-month-old boy doesn’t know that. Matthijs was a lovely surprise for Bareman and her husband but, now that she is juggling both him and Fifa’s teams for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, her respect for footballers returning to the field after giving birth has reached the realms of the almost unthinkable.

She is talking about those like Katrina Gorry, who had her daughter last year and has played her way back into the Matildas’ starting XI. Ditto some of the women who contested July’s Oceania World Cup qualifiers. Papua New Guinea, for instance, had seven mums help their country to the upcoming intercontinental playoffs.

“There were three or four mums in the Samoan team,” she says. “I can’t even get out of bed some days, and these mums are playing for the national team. And what’s cool is that we have some really high-profile mums, like Alex Morgan, who take their babies with them. They’re visible, and that, for me, is so important.”

In 2020, Fifa rewrote the regulations around maternity leave, announcing measures that will enforce fines and transfer bans on clubs who discriminate against players during pregnancy. It also fell in line with the International Labour Organisation’s minimum 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, with at least eight weeks after birth, at two-thirds of their contracted salary. The news was positive, but also met with concern that these minimum standards have been set too low.

Bareman, as Fifa’s first chief women’s football officer, realises they are the “basics, a first step”. She is also aware, from her decade of working in a male-dominated industry so often averse to progressive change, that to make it happen requires tact and patience.

“There’s a very broad range of things that need to be done across women’s sport to grow it en masse,” she says. “And sometimes the quick-fix solutions are not always there. For me, you get far more back, in the end, from a strategic, long-term approach, than a lot of quick fixes.”

The World Cup, Bareman says, underlines the incongruity of the global women’s football landscape. Between a larger-than-ever tournament (quite literally – it has expanded from 24 to 32 teams) featuring top nations booming off a flood of investment and the raging success of France 2019 and this year’s Euros, and the rest still floundering at the other end of a yawning economic chasm.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges in Fifa and in women’s football,” she says. “Because when we have these incredible moments like the Woman’s World Cup, when everybody’s watching and we’re on the front page of all the major newspapers, that comes with big expectations.

“But I’m in this position in Fifa where I also see what the reality is for the vast majority of the rest of our member countries and, unfortunately for them, it’s not near that level yet.

“Expectation is in the nature of our stakeholders, the fans, the players and the people involved in the game. I think that’s good. It pushes us, our member associations and the clubs to deliver more. But there’s not always, shall we say, the appetite or patience for the longer-term fix.”

The message is that the World Cup is not just about the high-profile games played at big stadiums, but also a means of expediting development. An example is Morocco. The country failed to qualify for the 2019 tournament, but the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation was one of 60,000 in attendance at the final in Lyon, and was moved to upscale the country’s development structures. That November, the first domestic women’s league was launched and this year, under the tutelage for former Olympique Lyonnais manager, Reynald Pedros, they hosted and made the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, and have now qualified for their first World Cup.

For 2023 co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand, there are different challenges. The popularity of football in both countries is high in terms of grassroots participation but, barring widespread support the national teams, top domestic leagues struggle to breach the public consciousness of fans amid the cross-code crowd of men’s and women’s rugby, league and AFL. There is also a lesson to be heeded from the men’s 2015 Asian Cup, which Ange Postecoglou’s Australia won on home soil in a headline-making moment administrators failed to sufficiently seize.

“That is exactly why next year’s World Cup has got to be leveraged by all the stakeholders in the game,” Bareman says. “My message to everyone involved in the game at every level is that they should be looking at it as an opportunity to boost it. This is an unbeatable moment to leverage.”

We have to talk about ticket sales, because that is why we are here. Organisers say that, in the first day of presale, they sold more than France did in the entire first week of sales. For them it is a big indicator one week out from next Saturday’s draw in Auckland.

We also have to talk about women’s rights in Qatar, an issue which – alongside LGBT rights – is receiving less international attention amid concerns over the exploitation of migrant workers by the 2022 men’s World Cup host nation. On this she will not be drawn, but does have some things to say about the independent report released this month which found sexual misconduct and emotional abuse is “systemic” in the US National Women’s Soccer League?

“We wouldn’t normally say a lot before those sort of things come out,” she says. “But I have to say as a person, but also as a representative of Fifa, that type of abuse, harassment and discrimination absolutely has no place in football, full stop. And in the women’s game it’s something becoming more and more prevalent. We have a zero-tolerance policy around this type of stuff.

“It’s a shame when you see the game on the trajectory it’s on – the incredible momentum we have – and then stories come out like what we’ve seen in the States. For me it’s quite heartbreaking. If it takes these high-profile cases like what we see happening in the NWSL to empower other women in those situations to speak up, then let it happen. Let it come out because that’s the only way we’ll be able to get rid of it.”

Bareman grew up on rugby as a New Zealander with a Dutch father and Samoan mother, and it wasn’t until she sought a connection with her mother’s homeland that she jumped from playing club football in Auckland to representing the national team in Samoa. As a banking and finance expert, she was hired as Football Federation Samoa’s finance manager and then its chief executive between 2011 and 2014, rehabilitating the association after its suspension by Fifa for the previous administration’s misuse of funds.

“It was the first position where I really experienced a level of discrimination because of my gender,” she says. “Samoa is an incredible place. I love it. It’s my home. I plan to retire there one day. But the football environment there is also very male-dominated, society in general is quite, what’s the right word? Patriarchal.

“That was more than 10 years ago. Now there’s a female prime minister there, so things are definitely changing. But also culturally, although I have Samoan blood I couldn’t speak the language when I arrived, so a lot of people wrote me off before they even knew me and before I’d even done any work. You’re an outsider, and there were moments where I had to close my office door and take a breath, and maybe sometimes shed a few tears, to overcome certain things.”

In 2014, when she returned to Auckland to take up a new role as deputy secretary general of the Oceania Football Confederation, she stepped straight into the fallout of corruption allegations that rocked world football. “Back in 2015 there was some very high-profile arrests and things in Zurich,” she says, in reference to the infamous police raid on a string of Fifa officials on corruption charges over the awarding of the men’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups. “The organisation went through a really dark time. What’s unique with me is that I was actually part of the reform journey.”

Bareman was appointed as the only woman on the Fifa reforms committee, “which would become an ongoing theme”. She advocated for more women in decision-making roles within the governing body. “I remember specifically saying, ‘if there were more women in high positions within Fifa I don’t think we would be in the position where we are today, sitting here having to make a reform package’.”

By early 2016 she was one of those women in a high position, sitting behind a desk and overseeing 211 member associations – albeit at the aforementioned gradual pace. And when she recounts the trying experiences it took to get there, she speaks with a fresh authenticity which feels very un-Fifa-like.

“Maybe some of the men wrote me off before they even knew me,” she says, “but I made 100% sure that, in every single meeting I went into on every single project I rolled out, that I had my research and I knew everything from A to Z. So maybe you think [because] I’m a woman I don’t belong here, but this speaks for itself.”

Ireland apologise for singing pro-IRA song after reaching Women’s World Cup | Republic of Ireland women’s football team

The Football Association of Ireland has apologised after a video emerged on social media of Ireland’s women singing a song with a pro-IRA chorus after qualifying for the World Cup on Tuesday.

The clip showed the team celebrating in their Hampden Park dressing room after their 1-0 victory over Scotland, singing “Ooh ah, up the ’RA” – words associated with support for the Irish Republican Army. It comes from a song, Celtic Symphony by the Wolfe Tones, released in 1987 for the centennial of Celtic football club.

In a statement the FAI said: “The Football Association of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland women’s national team manager Vera Pauw apologise for any offence caused by a song sung by players in the Ireland dressing room after the Fifa Women’s World Cup qualifying playoff win over Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday night.”

Pauw said: “We apologise from the bottom of our hearts to anyone who has been offended by the content of the post-match celebrations after we had just qualified for the World Cup.

“We will review this with the players and remind them of their responsibilities in this regard. I have spoken with players this morning and we are sorry collectively for any hurt caused, there can be no excuse for that.”

The veteran player Áine O’Gorman reiterated the apology, telling RTÉ Sport: “We sang 100 songs last night and that was the one that went out. We would just like to apologise to anyone who was offended.”

The apology came after Ireland’s stunning victory over Scotland, with a goal 18 minutes from time by Amber Barrett. Afterwards she dedicated her goal to the 10 victims of the Creeslough tragedy, saying: “My grandparents are born and bred there. 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.”

The apology was welcomed by the Ulster Unionist party leader, Doug Beattie. “They have let themselves down,” he said. “Truly disgraceful. Apology welcome. I was moved by the Creeslough dedication. We cannot have that. We cannot glorify the actions of a terrorist group.”

Humm’s last-gasp strike in extra time ends Wales’ World Cup dream | Women’s World Cup 2023

Wales’s hopes of reaching the World Cup finals and a first major tournament ended in heartbreak as Switzerland prevailed from this barmy playoff tie, the wily substitute Fabienne Humm flicking in a deft winner as the second half of extra time ticked into stoppage time.

A topsy-turvy contest was heading for a penalty shootout after the excellent Ramona Bachmann, who was forced off late on through injury, cancelled out Rhiannon Roberts’s opener.

Switzerland missed a second‑half penalty and Bachmann saw a fine strike disallowed in normal time for offside but there would be no final reprieve as Humm struck to floor Wales, whose distraught players left the pitch with sore eyes.

Ffion Morgan sat on the turf wiping tears from her eyes and the goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan headed down the tunnel gnawing at the inside of her cheeks, presumably replaying the moment that ultimately decided this game.

Geraldine Reuteler curled a cross into the six-yard box and Humm dashed towards the front post to help the ball past O’Sullivan.

“It is incredibly tough to take,” the Wales manager, Gemma Grainger, said. “We know that the margins at this level are fine. I’m proud that we compete at this level and we’re going to continue doing that.”

The game descended into attack versus defence as Switzerland attempted to ramp up the pressure but it seemed as though Wales would eke it out until penalties. Bachmann jinked into the box and forced a save from O’Sullivan before Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, whose 58th‑minute penalty cannoned off a post, headed wide unmarked from a free-kick.

The Switzerland substitute Rachel Rinast volleyed wide at the back post on the cusp of half-time in extra time and the Wales left-back Rachel Rowe headed off the line to deny Riola Xhemaili. The defending was so desperate that Xhemaili was shorn of one of her boots. Wales, who required extra time to overcome Bosnia‑Herzegovina on Thursday, eventually wilted.

Wales’ Rhiannon Roberts scores the opening goal against Switzerland in the Women’s World Cup playoff match
Rhiannon Roberts gives Wales an early lead against Switzerland. Photograph: Christian Merz/AP

Switzerland put 15 goals past Moldova in their previous game and are nine places above Wales in the Fifa rankings but Grainger’s side had come too far – this was their 12th game of the qualifying campaign – to show any signs of an inferiority complex.

Wales seemed to relish their status as underdogs and rocked the hosts when Roberts side-footed in on the turn with 19 minutes on the clock. Kayleigh Green kept Angharad James’s corner alive in the box, towering above two Switzerland defenders to win a header, and Roberts reacted quickest to squeeze a shot into the corner.

A slick move brought Switzerland’s equaliser on the verge of half-time, the Arsenal midfielder Lia Wälti’s clever pass breaking the lines after Reuteler shifted the ball infield. Rowe was lured upfield out of position and Noelle Maritz, fresh from picking up Wälti’s perfectly weighed pass, roamed down the right flank and picked out the former Chelsea forward Bachmann, who effortlessly swept a right‑foot shot into the top corner.

Wales were suddenly on the back foot and the Switzerland defender Luana Bühler then headed a corner wide before the half-time whistle.

The drama increased in the second half when Crnogorcevic adjusted her feet to convert the rebound after her penalty rattled a post, only for the Swedish referee, Tess Olofsson, to rule the goal out because no other player touched the ball before the Barcelona striker stroked home from close range. Crnogorcevic was made to wait a couple of minutes before taking the spot-kick, as the referee calmed squabbling players. The penalty was awarded after the video assistant referee alerted Olofsson to the ball striking Rowe’s hand as the defender got to grips with Eseosa Aigbogun’s cross.

O’Sullivan made a smart save a couple of minutes into the second half to keep out Svenja Fölmli ’s effort from the angle as the hosts sought a winner. At the other end Green saw an effort land on the roof of the Swiss net after latching on to Jess Fishlock’s pass.

Bachmann thought she had scored a winner on 84 minutes, only for VAR to kill the party. Bachmann rolled Hayley Ladd and lashed a shot into the far corner from the edge of the six‑yard box but moments later placed her hands on her hips awaiting the VAR review, which found the substitute Riola Xhemaili offside in the buildup. Rowe’s heroics cleared off the line to deny Xhemaili but Humm hushed Wales at the last.

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.

Jess Fishlock’s extra-time goal gives Wales World Cup playoff victory | Women’s World Cup 2023

The games just keep getting bigger for Wales. They secured an extra-time victory over Bosnia to move one step closer to reaching the World Cup and a first major tournament. For the men’s side, so often the protagonist has been Gareth Bale but it was another Welsh icon who these days resides stateside that unlocked a stubborn Bosnia defence to qualify for the next round.

Jess Fishlock’s superb sweeping volley at the end of first-half stoppage time in extra time was enough to earn a trip to Zurich to face Switzerland on Tuesday. Fishlock is Wales’s most decorated player – last week she won the NWSL Shield with Seattle-based OL Reign and has twice won the Champions League – but her 35th goal on her 135th cap was the kind of match-winning moment that may well eclipse the lot. Fishlock sprinted towards the halfway line in celebration with every outfield player in hot pursuit, with many knee-sliding on to the turf in delirium.

“It’s a phenomenal moment that I never really thought I would see in a Wales shirt,” Fishlock said. “The celebrations were crazy. I think it is probably my best and most important goal for Wales. I remember saying to Haz [Hayley Ladd]: ‘Go over there and tell Rachel [Rowe] to whip it into the front post and I’ll get on the end of it.’ I was frustrated with our lofted balls and them always getting the first contact. Thankfully, they listened to me.” Then arrived a broad smile.

For so long it seemed as though Wales’s night was destined to end in misery – they had four goals disallowed in normal time – but eventually triumphed when Fishlock, one of three players to have an effort chalked off for offside, converted Rowe’s free-kick. Wales keep breaking records, too, this the biggest crowd at a Wales women’s game and while the 15,200 here had to do their fair share of suffering, with Kayleigh Green twice denied by the offside flag before the substitute Ffion Morgan and Fishlock saw goals ruled out, they left with beaming smiles.

The two best-ranked playoff second-round winners will secure spots at the World Cup, with the other victorious side going into the inter-confederation play-offs in New Zealand in February. Gemma Grainger’s side always looked the more likely to reach the next stage but Bosnia proved resilient and their goalkeeper, Almina Hodzic, made a series of fine saves, the pick of the bunch an alert first-half stop to help Ceri Holland’s powerful drive from an acute angle on to the crossbar before Angharad James saw the rebound blocked.

Jess Fishlock puts the ball in the net for Wales but the goal was disallowed
Jess Fishlock puts the ball in the net for Wales but the goal was disallowed. Photograph: Huw Fairclough/Getty Images

At the other end Laura O’Sullivan made an instinctive save early on to prevent Matija Aleksic with an outstretched boot but the Wales goalkeeper otherwise had a satisfyingly quiet night as Bosnia failed to fashion clear chances.

Rowe said she “nearly screamed the roof down” after being drawn against Bosnia, the lowest ranked team in these playoffs, but those words seemed to stoke the fire in Wales’ opponents. The Wales centre-back Hayley Ladd inadvertently gave O’Sullivan a fright 10 minutes into the second half when her header to intercept Melisa Hasanbegovic’s through ball dropped wide of the Wales goal with the goalkeeper stranded.

But after that scare it was one-way traffic, with Green having the second of two goals ruled out. Morgan arrived off the bench and thought she had found a winner on 83 minutes, only for Rhiannon Roberts to be deemed offside in the buildup to converting from close range. Fishlock was then denied but rose to the occasion in extra time. Fishlock peeled off her marker to meet Rowe’s curled free-kick and picked out the top corner with the sweetest of strikes. “Big players turn up in big games and that’s what Jess did for this team,” Grainger said.