COCA COLA CHAMPIONSHIP
Hyder Jawad meets a man not phased by a date with the world champions
Nigel Quashie was adamant. "I enjoyed playing against Hull City just as much as I will enjoy playing against Italy," he said, and one could see it in the eyes that he was being serious.
He played against Hull for West Bromwich Albion in the Coca-Cola Championship last week and could play for Scotland against Italy in a European Championship qualifying match next March.
Competing against the two World Cup finalists in one season - Scotland also play France - would blow the mind of most people, but not Quashie.
So when he sat down on July 9 to watch the World Cup final, he had more interest than most. From the moment that Italy and France began their epic at the Olympiastadion, Berlin, he felt a tinge of anticipation - and deja vu.
Quashie was in the Scotland teams that twice played against Italy during the World Cup qualifying campaign of 2004-06, and he remembers how close he came to the achievement of his life.
"Scotland, in the San Siro against Italy, had them rocked," he recalls. "Then Andrea Pirlo produced a great free kick and then they get a goal.
"But if you want to play football, you play to enjoy it and you play to win. I played against Hull City last week and I enjoyed that just as much as I will enjoy playing against Italy this season."
Scotland lost 2-0 to Italy in Milan then drew 1-1 with the future world champions at Hampden Park. Quashie was able to see the likes of Pirlo, Cannavaro, Materazzi and Gattuso at close quarters. Hull City are not quite the same but Quashie is grateful for any chance to play football, whatever the opposition.
"I am a lucky man to be able to get on to a pitch and play football," he says. "You try your best and hold your hands up if it isn't good enough. If you are playing with ten honest players, you cannot ask for any more.
"Walter Smith [Scotland manager] has instilled a belief into the players. Everybody has responded and results have proved that. He is a great man and so are the staff.
"I want to play against the best. There is no point in playing against the lower countries. What use is that? You learn by playing against the best.
"We were on the verge of an upset last time we played against Italy, but players of calibre can turn it around quickly."
Quiet and unassuming, Quashie is a stabilising influence in the Albion midfield. He joined the club from Southampton last January for £1.2 million and should have inspired Albion towards survival. But he suffered a four-match ban at a crucial time and Albion never recovered.
Life in the Coca-Cola Championship is no less exciting but probably tougher. He could play more than 50 matches this season and would not mind if they are all as tough as the one for Albion away to Cardiff City last Tuesday, which ended 1-1. Albion play away to Southampton tomorrow.
"The matches in this league come thick and fast," Quashie says. "Forty-six matches is a long season but it is important to pick up as many points as you can in the first month.
"Then it all starts to really kick off. Going to Cardiff, and getting a point, was good. Not many teams will come away with a point there. Dave Jones has put together a fine team and they showed, last Tuesday, how tough they are.
"Southampton will be just the same. They are a good footballing club, which is how George Burley likes it to be. He has got a good blend of youth and experience, which can benefit the whole club.
"But, with the players we have, I think we can go down there and get a result. It will be hard, a battle, and we have to earn the points.
"I could play 50-odd matches this season but that is the way it goes. And this is a squad game now, so a manager and mix it up if players are tired."
Aged 28, Quashie is beginning his 12th season in professional football. He began with Queens Park Rangers, played for Nottingham Forest, then Portsmouth. But he made his name with Southampton.
"I enjoyed my time with Southampton," he says. "But to make the move from Portsmouth to Southampton was one of the boldest things I have done. It was a good move but I am a West Brom player now and I go there to help West Brom pick up points. I don't regret anything in football."
It helps Quashie that has played under some of the most inspirational managers in the British game. He flourished under Harry Redknapp with Southampton and Portsmouth, and is doing likewise with Walter Smith and Bryan Robson. It was Robson who took Quashie to The Hawthorns.
"I've been lucky enough to have played under some really good managers," Quashie says. "Bryan Robson is up there, with Harry Redknapp and Walter Smith. Their knowledge of football is world class. And Bryan Robson was one of the best midfielders in the world. Walter won nine league titles on the run with Rangers, which takes some doing. They get the best out of players".