Wales fans
Could Wales fans have a world title win to celebrate this weekend?
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Sunday, 20 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on S4C, live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text and score updates

Wales to become world champions this weekend? It might sound like a wind-up, but it’s true. Well, kind of.

If Rob Page’s side beat Italy in Rome on Sunday, they will not just finish top of Group A at Euro 2020, they will claim a global title as well – just not a recognised one, sadly.

In its own words, the Unofficial Football World Championshipexternal-link (UFWC) is an “alternative tournament”, which has been contested in 979 boxing-style title matches since the first international game in 1872, with the winner taking the crown each time. A draw means the holders keep it.

Fifa has not endorsed the competition, obviously – it appears happy to keep holding its own World Cup instead – but it does not disapprove either. It has wished UFWC fans “a lot of fun”.

Italy have been champions since September 2020, and made 13 successful defences of their title, but now Wales have a chance to take the glory, even if they are probably unaware of it.

The omens are with the Welsh too – when they last took the unofficial world title, it was by overcoming the Azzurri in an away friendly in June 1988 – still their sole success on Italian soil in six attempts since 1965.

Roberto Mancini, who played up front with Gianluca Vialli that night, is now Italy’s manager but one thing has not changed – Wales were massive underdogs then too.

Roberto Mancini in 1988 (left) and 2021 (right)
Then and now: Mancini was 23 in 1988 and Italy’s first-choice striker at that summer’s European Championship. Now, 33 years on, he is the Azzurri’s manager at Euro 2020

“That game was six days before Italy’s opening match at Euro ’88,” recalls ex-Wales striker and manager Mark Hughes, part of their team that night.

“I think they maybe viewed us as easy pickings, a chance to score a lot of goals and get their confidence up. That never happened.”

Instead it was Wales who got the only goal in Brescia, with Ian Rush finding an expert finish that must have given him some satisfaction after he had endured a difficult season with Juventus.

Hughes, who is working as a BBC pundit at Euro 2020, did not enjoy his night much, however.

“Two of their defenders, Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri, were a bit naughty,” he explains. “I was kicked from pillar to post.

“If one of them didn’t get me, the other one would. It was probably one of the only times I was unnerved in a game because they were willing to do anything.

“I had elbows in the front and back of my head at the same time, and both my socks shredded by a two-footed tackle. I needed a new pair before I could carry on.

“It was a bit brutal at times. There had been a bit of talk that Juve wanted me, to link up with Rushie, so I think that was their way of putting me off coming to Italy – it worked!

“But we silenced the home crowd when we scored, and then they started whistling their own side before the end. It would be nice if the same thing happens on Sunday.”

Italy have won both their matches at Euro 2020 so far while Wales are second in Group A, two points behind, having beaten Turkey 2-0 on Wednesday after a 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

Hughes believes Wales should approach the game with no fear, having reached the semi-finals at Euro 2016.

“It is going to be very difficult, but we have to be confident,” he says.

“Gabby Logan came up with a great statistic in the BBC studio after our win over Turkey, that only France have won more games than us at the past two Euros – six, to our five.

“If we doubt our chances before we play Italy, we should remind ourselves of that.”

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