Memories of playing for Northern Ireland at the World Cup Finals still give Martin O’Neill goosebumps.
The former Celtic manager will be an interested spectator as the action in this year’s tournament starts to unfold.
And one date ringed in his diary is this Friday, when England take on the United States at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.
More specifically, O’Neill is keen to see how the Hoops’ central defender, Cameron Carter-Vickers, gets on up against the Three Lions’ talisman, Harry Kane.
The 70-year-old Irishman said: “Carter-Vickers has been brilliant at club level, and I can see him doing well in Qatar.
“After a few loan spells, he appears to have found his spiritual home at Parkhead. His defensive qualities are absolutely sound.
“He will know Kane well as they were team-mates at Spurs. So Cameron will look to put that knowledge to good use when they face each other on Friday.
“England have a hugely-talented squad, and Gareth Southgate does extremely well with them at tournaments.
“But it will be just one of the many games that will grab me.
“The World Cup is a magnificent tournament, and there will be excitement around the globe for the next four weeks.
“I know there is a bit of negativity surrounding Qatar for various reasons, and I get all of that. I understand and respect why that is the case.
“But, purely looking at the football, the players will be really proud and excited to be there.
“It really is a highlight of any footballer’s career to represent your country at a World Cup.
“That’s why I feel really sad for Sadio Mane being ruled out injured. His talent merits him being there for Senegal.
“I was fortunate enough to captain Northern Ireland in Spain in 1982 and it was very, very special.
“I still remember the highs and lows like it was yesterday.
“We got through the group stages, and beat the hosts along the way. Who can forget Gerry Armstrong’s stunning winning goal?
“Back then, the next stage was four groups of three countries, rather than a straight knockout. All of the group winners made up the semi-final line-up. We were in with Austria and France. We drew with Austria and had to beat France.
“I scored a goal against the French to give us the lead. But, incredibly, it was ruled out for offside. I was convinced I was onside.
“Television pictures proved I was at least one yard onside. Had that goal stood, I’m sure we would have made the last four.
“It would have given us something to defend and keep a hold of, but France ended up winning the game.
“I know VAR will be at the World Cup, and it has caused controversy in recent years, particularly in Scotland since it was introduced just a few weeks ago.
“But had VAR been in place in 1982 . . .
“Anyway, I will watch this tournament, and will see how it all unfolds for Lionel Messi, in particular.
“He has been an outstanding footballer and given fans around the world moments of sheer, undiluted pleasure. This will, more than likely, be his last World Cup, and I think it would be fitting to see him lift the trophy at the end of it.
“I also look forward to watching Brazil. They always have special players, and I recall watching them on television in 1970, led by the great Pele. They were an absolute joy.”
Thanks to the World Cup Finals, and despite the fact Steve Clarke’s side never qualified, Scottish football is on a break just now.
Celtic sit nine points clear of Rangers, and it looks like Ange Postecoglou will be retaining the title.
O’Neill – who won three titles in his time at Celtic Park– understands that viewpoint – but has urged caution.
He said: “It’s a wonderful position for Celtic to be in right now, and Ange Postecoglou must be thrilled.
“But only 15 games have been played. It’s not even at the halfway stage yet.
“There may well be twists and turns to come, and you can never take anything for granted. It can all change very quickly.
“In my first season at Celtic, and in only my fifth league game, we beat Rangers 6-2 at Celtic Park.
“Three months later, we lost 5-1 to them at Ibrox.
“So Ange will make sure the team is focused and in full concentration mode for every game. Avoiding complacency is the key.
“He doesn’t strike me as the type of manager to allow his players’ minds to wander, and for that reason I don’t see them losing top spot in the table.
“But Rangers will have other ideas, and much of it will hinge in the first four or five weeks after the World Cup, and also the January transfer window.”
O’Neill will be back in Scotland as part of his tour to promote his autobiography, On Days Like These.
It’s a compelling and candid account of his career, from twice lifting the European Cup with Nottingham Forest to leading the Hoops to a Treble and the UEFA Cup Final in Seville in 2003.
Not surprisingly, his time playing for Brian Clough at Forest features prominently.
“Sometimes I look back at those times with great embarrassment because I had too much to say for myself,” said O’Neill.
“The man was phenomenal at his job. Terrific. Someone that charismatic is always going to change your life – and he did.
“The feedback on the book has been very encouraging, and that is nice to hear.
“I was never really sure about doing a book, but I’m now glad to have done so. It was great recalling different memories from life and from football.
“I’ve been very lucky to have such a wonderful family, and a satisfying career.”
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