Lorenzo Amoruso has tipped Italy to wipe the smile off Northern Ireland faces.
Nigel Worthington’s side made a sensational start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign when they rocked Slovenia 1-0 in Maribor but Amoruso expects them to hit the south Belfast ground with a thud tomorrow night.
Italy’s World Cup defence this summer descended into a tale of complete humiliation as the Azzurri were eliminated in the first round.
After being held to 1-1 draws by Paraguay and minnows New Zealand, they lost 3-2 to Slovakia.
It was the first time Italy failed to win a single game at a World Cup finals and Marcello Lippi made way for Cesare Prandelli as a nation embarked on a mission to restore battered pride.
The men in blue now mean business and their hunger to return to the big time has been underlined by two opening Euro 2012 qualifying victories against Estonia and the Faroe Islands.
Former Rangers skipper Amoruso represented Italy at the 1987 FIFA Under-16 World Championship and won two caps at Under-21 level — but he never received a senior cap.
Current Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni was just one of several managers who refused to reward him with the call-up he felt he deserved.
In fact the centre-back was so frustrated, in 2004 he expressed a desire to play for Scotland!
Amoruso looked on in despair as his beloved homeland failed to turn up in South Africa, but he expects Northern Ireland to suffer at the hands of the real Italy.
“It is going to be a completely different Italy side,” said the 39-year-old. “Quite a few new players have come into the side and when that happens you get a different attitude and mentality.
“The World Cup showing was shameful — it was so bad for any Italian to witness. In fact, it was not only a shock to Italians, it would have been a big shock to anyone who follows football.
“Against Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, Italy should have won that group easily. Something did not work properly and the manager probably put too much faith in older players.
“The players on the pitch must also admit that they did not perform as the manager and everyone else expected them to.
“Hopefully, this moment has now passed and will not happen again. Although we were world champions in 2006, a lot can change in four years and the team needed an injection of new and fresh faces.”
There is still lingering bitterness in Amoruso that he was never able to don the famous blue jersey.
“Giovanni Trapattoni, Cesare Maldini and Dino Zoff were managers that overlooked me,” he added.
“I was going away from Italy and for some stupid reason I was not in the public eye as the best solution.
“Myself, Paolo di Canio and Marco Simone, who went to Monaco, were never called up to the national team. Even Gianfranco Zola was called up for a few games but no more.
“It seemed as if we were betraying our country by going abroad. Now things have changed. That’s a small regret I have in my career because I never played for the national team. When I look at some of the players who have played in the team I thought I could have featured, no problem.
“I’m not being arrogant but I didn’t feel all their centre-halves were stronger than me.”
Can Northern Ireland make it to Poland and Ukraine for the Euro 2012 finals?
“Football is so strange,” added Amoruso. “Look at Spain, they lost their first match in South Africa to Switzerland but went on to win the World Cup.
“Northern Ireland did beat Spain so that is the warning to Cesare Prandelli and his staff.”