CHLOE MUSTAKI believes Ireland must get creative — without losing the defensive side of their game.
The Girls in Green reached the World Cup for the first time in their history with Tuesday’s 1-0 play-off victory over Scotland at Hampden Park.
It was a fourth competitive win in a row without conceding a goal, and a third consecutive 1-0 triumph, as Ireland ground their way to next year’s finals in Australia and New Zealand.
But it was not always pretty. This side have earned a reputation for being a nightmare to play against because, under coach Vera Pauw, they are good at parking the bus.
Scotland discovered that on Tuesday as Ireland defended for their lives in the dying minutes, wasted time with injuries and generally frustrated their hosts until the final whistle.
And Mustaki — an unused sub in Glasgow — insisted that their success with their backs to the wall is a strength that must not be lost, even as they find more ways to win.
The Bristol City left-back said: “It’s so nerve-wracking when you’re looking on to the pitch, when, you know, you can see the players sustaining so much pressure.
“But actually having played in Sweden when we sustained so much pressure towards the end of the game, somehow you still feel in control.
“I mean, ‘We’re Irish, this is what we’re used to, we’re so good at putting our bodies on the line’.
“Just the way we grow up, girls playing GAA, girls playing different sports, it’s in our blood to be strong and put our bodies on the line.”
But she insisted Ireland will develop and have the players who can do that, as Amber Barrett proved with her winner — a clinical finish after a run from deep on to Denise O’Sullivan’s defence-splitting pass.
Mustaki added: “Obviously, look, going to a World Cup, that’s not going to be enough so we’ll obviously look to build on that, on our creative side, play a bit nicer football.
“Most of our girls are full-time now so we can expect a lot more in terms of how we play, our retention of the ball.
“We will need more than we currently have if we want to progress in the World Cup. But we have the players do that, we need the belief in ourselves.
“We can work on it in the coming months and be as ready as we can be in different kinds of styles of football so that we can face any opponent and be confident.
“But that has brought us so far in terms of our defensive play, so we won’t ever lose that.”
And — five years on from when the team threatened to strike over the conditions they were expected to compete in — the 27-year-old believes that the World Cup can do wonders for the profile of women’s football in Ireland.
She said: “If you see the progress that has been made since those talks back in 2017, having narrowly missed out through the Euros and then qualifying now, I think hopefully there will be a lot more resources.
“Parents will probably be more willing to push young girls into women’s football because they can now realistically dream to be in a major tournament every couple of years, now that we have reached that milestone.
“Hopefully now, that can be the norm, girls can dream of being professional football players and making a living from it, and not worry financially, will I be able to support a family and all the rest.
“I think it will be major. Hopefully we’ve inspired enough young girls to keep at it because there are some drop-out rates when you get to teenage years.
“But hopefully there are enough reasons to stay in the game.”
Mustaki also hopes it can help the Women’s National League, having come up through the domestic game herself, starting with Peamount, moving to DLR and later joining Shelbourne.
She added: “I definitely would like to see that. There has been a lot of talk about improving the Women’s National League for five or ten years now.
“I know it’s easier said than done, for sure.
“But I guess if we can look to make the league semi-professional over the next few years and attract some foreign talent . . . even get a buzz around the league and most importantly retain the talent that we have been growing for so many years that we haven’t been able to keep in the country because there is no financial future there.
“That’s what I’d like to see, it’s years in the making but hopefully this will accelerate the growth of the Women’s National League.”