THE WORLD Cup is nearly upon us, and things feel different this time, with the tournament being held in the winter.
Twenty-six nations worldwide will compete in Qatar to win the coveted Jules Rimet trophy in December.
These include the likes of everyone's favourite team Brazil, Lionel Messi's Argentina, England, and other countries like Senegal and Ecuador too.
The vibe is different ahead of the tournament, but like every World Cup tournament, the football on show will change that vibe very quickly.
One man who knows all about playing in a World Cup for his country is legendary Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given.
Given won 134 caps for his country and kept 52 clean sheets during his time in a green jersey.
He will be forever known as one of Ireland's finest footballing imports and is well regarded as one of the best Premier League keepers of that era.
One of the highlights of his career was Ireland's 2002 World Cup run, where Spain eventually knocked them out on penalties.
The Donegal native sat down with Football Betting and the Irish Post for an exclusive interview regarding the upcoming World Cup, his favourite to win it, the famous screamer from Wayne Rooney, his time at the 20o2 World Cup with Ireland, and his thoughts on Newcastle United as a player and fan.
Shay Given on the World Cup in Qatar
"It's different isn't it. It's the first winter World Cup for everyone, fans, players, media whatever you want to call it, but at the same time I'm excited about it. There's going to be some amazing games coming up, with the best players in the world," said Given.
"Once it gets going and underway, I'm sure we will all be glued to TVs.
"Everyone will have their interests and their favourites and yeah I'm looking forward to it."
"Argentina and Brazil, in many people's eyes, are two of the teams mentioned above many people have tipped to win the tournament.
Argentina recently won the last Copa America under Lionel Scaloni. At the same time, Brazil has an array of attacking talent on its roster, a throwback to the days when Brazil was famed for their tricks and flicks.
Given is also backing one of the big South American two to win it outright.
"I do think it's between Argentina and Brazil. My heart would love for Argentina to win it because of Lionel Messi and the fairytale of him winning the World Cup, he added.
"If anyone playing in world football deserves that accolade more than anyone else, it would be him.
"They have got a chance, but my heart says Messi, but my head says Brazil. It's been a while since the Brazilians won the World Cup. With this squad of players and the players that missed out, they have so much talent.
"I think again my heart says Argentina, but my head says Brazil, so I'm going to put my neck on the line and say Brazil wins it."
Given on what it's like to go to a World Cup
It won't be the first World Cup for several stars, but it will also be a debut one for many players.
Players like Kenneth Taylor (Netherlands), Enzo Fernandez (Argentina), and Diogo Costa (Portugal) are some of the names tipped to take Qatar by storm, while older heads like Thiago Silva( Brazil) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) will be their last.
Given, who played at one World Cup with Ireland in South Korea and Japan in 2002, spoke about the experience for players and gave some advice.
"It's very different for the players this time because the lads played last weekend. This time next week, they'll be playing for their country in a World Cup," added Given.
"I know a number of teams are meeting today and that they'll be flying out on Monday or Tuesday.
"It's going to happen quickly. It's going to be nervy, of course, it is."
It's such a big tournament. You're right, though; the excitement levels are going to be amazing as well.
"As a player, you might only get one chance, like myself, to play in a World Cup. Some of them might be lucky enough to play in a couple, but some will see this as a chance of a lifetime, but grab it with both hands and enjoy the experience of the whole thing."
Given on the 2002 Ireland v Spain game, where Ireland took Spain to penalties
Ireland's last World Cup appearance was in 2002. Ireland came second in a group containing Germany, Cameroon, and Saudi Arabia.
Ireland faced the winners of Group B, Spain, in the round of 16 at the Suwon World Cup Stadium.
An opening goal from Spain's Fernando Morientes meant that Spain were heading to the next round.
Ireland had a chance to level it up, but Ian Harte missed Ireland's first penalty in normal time.
However, a foul by Captain Fernando Hierro saw a penalty converted by Robbie Keane. After extra time ended all square, the game went to penalties.
During the penalty shootout, Spain missed two penalties via Juanfran and Valeron, but Ireland's Kevin Kilbane, David Connolly, and Matt Holland missed for the Republic.
Ireland were sent home.
Given who was there that day gave his take on what would be Ireland's last World Cup game.
"The bit that disappointed me was that there was no key moment where the keeper could make a difference. said Given"
"The other problem was that we missed the first three penalties. If people cast their minds back further, we missed another penalty with Ian Harte. If that went in, you never know what could happen.
"I do feel in extra time, and they were holding on. Towards the end of the extra time, they were a bit desperate to get to penalties."
It's just if' and buts and maybes at the end of the day. If Harte scored that goal, bla bla, you know what I mean.
"We were so close to knocking out one of the big nations. You look at what they did after World Cups and European Championships, but it is what it is now. "
Shay Given on that famous Wayne Rooney strike
Fans of Manchester United and the Premier League in the early noughties will never forget a young bullish Wayne Rooney terrorising English defences every week.
The teenager/man is best remembered at Old Trafford for his passion, goals,his never say die attitude and his intense aggression in games.
One of Rooney's most famous strikes came in April 2005. On that day, Rooney became fed up with the officiating of referee Neale Barry and the constant fouling of then-Magpies striker Alan Shearer.
Rooney found himself in front of a head clearance and hit one of the most iconic and furious volleys in Premier League history past the hapless Given.
The former Ireland keeper went into detail about that strike when asked did he even see the strike.
"I did, yeah," Given chuckled.
"It's mad because just before that, he's just arguing with the referee, and then next thing it's in the back of the net flying toward me."
"But you know the thing about that though is see, you see it repeated all the time in ads and stuff on Sky Sports ad or whatever it is."
"I always see myself kicking the ball into the net and getting near it, like the Rooney great goal or the Dennis Bergkamp great goal.
"All these great goals go down in Premier League history, and it always seems to be me.
"In saying that, though, Rooney, what a player, what a talent".
R O O N E Y ! 🤩#OnThisDay 14 years ago, @WayneRooney stunned Newcastle... 👌 pic.twitter.com/Ss6yXCHOL9
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 24, 2019
Shay Given on Newcastle United
He will be forever known as one of Ireland's finest footballing imports and is well regarded as one of the best Premier League keepers of hiGiven played 354 times for Newcastle United from 1997-2009.
Newcastle fans, to this day, still speak exceptionally highly of their former shot-stopper.
The Magpies were a laughing stock under Mike Ashley, but now with Saudi investment have become a sleeping giant ready to awaken once more fully.
The current Newcastle team are flying at the moment under Eddie Howe. They sit third in the Premier League before the World Cup and will stay there going into Christmas, a feat not many saw coming this quickly.
Despite the profiles in the squad Howe has managed to reignite the careers of Joelinton and Miguel Almirón while spending a little bit too.
Fans on Tyneside are optimistic about the good times becoming a permanent thing for years to come now that they have very, very deep pockets.
Despite not bringing up Newcastle intentionally in the interview, the 46-year-old pivoted to his old club and spoke very passionately about his old club like a fan on The Gallowgate Stand at St James Park.
"Yeah, Newcastle's an exciting thing at the minute, you know, with what's happened with them," Given said with a big smile.
"There's a huge buzz in the city. It's just great to see where they are. You look at the table, and with the World Cup on for five or six weeks, the fans will be looking at the table every single day."
"There's a real buzz in the city. It's exciting. There's hope again. I joined Newcastle, and we finished second. That's the club I joined when I was 21, and now it looks like it may be too soon for a title challenge, but if they got a Champions League spot or European football, it would be unbelievable."
Given also believes that the longer the season goes on, more and more fans of the Magpies will start to believe European adventures could become a reality.
"They beat Spurs, hit the post twice at Old Trafford, lost to a Fergie-time winner to Liverpool, comfortably beat Chelsea."
"This could be the real deal, and with no European football as the other clubs have, it could work in their favour."
If they got into the Champions League, that would be surreal.
Shay Given on the Jack Grealish Miguel Almirón comments
Last summer Manchester City won the league for the second time. City had a parade a couple of days later for club fans.
One of City's players, Jack Grealish, commented on the day about the Newcastle player Miguel Almirón.
The England midfielder compared Riyad Mahrez's underwhelming final-day performance to a typical display from the Magpies' Paraguayan international.
"You played like Almirón," said Grealish.
To this day, Almirón has been in sensational form for Newcastle scoring eight goals this season. He was also named the Premier League Player of the Month for Octobe, while Grealish has scored 1 goal for his club this season.
Given gave his take on the situation.
"You know I take the Grealish comments with a pinch of salt. Jack had a few beers, so it's basically him celebrating winning the league."
"I know people are making a massive deal of it, but you need to separate it a bit."
"For me, that was just banter."
"After all that, it is quite exciting to talk about Newcastle as an ex-player. I spend most of my career there. It's exciting to talk about Newcastle in terms of the Champions League or upsetting the big boys."