Northern Ireland great Peter McParland knows all about beating the Italians with a place in the World Cup finals on the line.
He did it in 1958 and hopes, come November 15 next year, the modern day players will have the chance to do the same.
Newry native McParland is 86 and as sharp as a razor blade. He's fun too, loves telling a good yarn and relishes recalling the glory days when he played for his country.
Magnificent for Northern Ireland, he was majestic at club level and is rightly regarded as one of Aston Villa's greatest footballers, scoring twice for them in their shock 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the 1957 FA Cup final and also hitting the target for the midlands outfit in their League Cup decider triumph against Rotherham four years later.
He kept a close eye on Northern Ireland's World Cup draw on Monday and the fixtures announcement yesterday which sees Ian Baraclough's side open up away to Group C top seeds Italy on March 25.
With only the group winners qualifying and the runners-up earning a play-off, the dream scenario would be for Northern Ireland to be hosting Italy on November 15 in 2021 in the last group match with a place at the Qatar 2022 finals at stake.
Rewind to the qualifying series for the 1958 World Cup and that's the position McParland and his team-mates found themselves in.
"The Italians made some deal back then that they would play us last because they thought if they needed anything they could beat us to get it. They thought we would be fodder for them. That was the biggest mistake they made," McParland joyously told me from his Bournemouth home.
The decisive group game was set for Wednesday, December 4, 1957, with Northern Ireland needing a win to qualify and Italy, World Cup winners in 1934 and 1938, requiring a draw.
Hungarian Istvan Zolt was supposed to referee the match but he was fog-bound in London and couldn't make the trip. Alternative referees were suggested, but the Italians were having none of it and, after intense discussions between the respective associations, the monumentally important World Cup clash was reduced to a friendly.
McParland recalled: "We were all sitting in the dressing room ready for the game and 20 minutes before kick-off our manager Peter Doherty came in for what was going to be his last gee-up before we went on the park.
"He stood with his back to the door and said, 'I've got news for you boys, we are playing a friendly today against Italy and not a World Cup game because the ref's not here'.
"We didn't know anything about what was going on behind the scenes so you can imagine our surprise. Irish referees were suggested. The Italians, though, wouldn't play a World Cup qualifier with an Irishman in the middle."
Lurgan man Tommy Mitchell took control of the most infamous Windsor friendly that proved anything but.
When the 50,000 fans, many of whom had taken a half day off work for the afternoon game, were informed of the new status of the match, the atmosphere turned hostile, with supporters feeling conned and howling in protest when the teams came out.
The feelings were equally frosty on the pitch. Italy's Guiseppe Chiapella smashed Northern Ireland captain Danny Blanchflower in the face, there was a ferocious battle between highly-rated Juan Schiaffino and tough as they come Wilbur Cush, who scored twice in the hard-fought 2-2 draw, and as the game wore on the visitors lost control, infuriating home supporters further.
McParland said: "It was a bit of a booting match. We went out and got stuck in because we were all prepared to play a World Cup match and they were giving us stick as well. Lots of things were going on and the match became known as the Battle of Belfast. They got a draw and would have qualified had they played it as a World Cup game."
After the final whistle, angry fans invaded the pitch, with Northern Ireland players helping the fearful Italians into the dressing room as police baton-charged the crowd on the field to restore order. Questions about the controversy were raised in the Italian Parliament.
One month later, Italy returned to Windsor Park for the crunch World Cup tie, with relations between the nations at an all-time low.
In an epic encounter on January 15, 1958, Northern Ireland won 2-1, with goals from Jimmy McIlroy and Cush taking them to the World Cup finals for the first time, knocking football giants Italy out in the process.
"It was backs to the wall at the end but we did it, and the atmosphere was incredible," said the genial McParland, chuckling at the magical memory of it all.
"The World Cup finals is the Utopia of football, so to qualify was wonderful."
McParland, who would go on to manage Glentoran, scored five goals in the 1958 World Cup, inspiring Northern Ireland to the last-eight. He remains the nation's top scorer in the finals of the tournament.
"It's nice to have that record. I want one of our boys to score more than that in qualifying and then we would be in the hunt for the 2022 finals," he said.
"The World Cup is so special to play in. I'd love to see this Northern Ireland team get there.
"Hopefully it comes down to a one-match shoot-out with Italy in Belfast to make the finals, just like it did for our team.
"Italy are a big football nation but when we play them next year the boys have to believe in themselves and, as we showed in 1958, anything can happen. There's nothing better than qualifying for the World Cup finals.
"We will have to improve on recent results but I feel we can do that. It's good that Steven Davis is staying on because Steven is a guiding star for the side.
"We also have Stuart Dallas and Jonny Evans who are top players, and with younger lads like Bailey Peacock-Farrell getting better there is the makings of a team. Our forwards must be firing when the qualifiers start."