Football: Giggs is planning Italian conquest

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The Independent Online
RYAN GIGGS is aiming to create another miracle to end an incredible season. He is in Italy, planning to reproduce some of the skill that helped Manchester United to the treble - and, in doing so, nail the theory that playing for Wales is way down his list of priorities.

Giggs arrived in Bologna yesterday unheralded and virtually ignored with the rest of the Welsh squad who play Italy on Saturday in a Euro 2000 Group One match vital to both sides' chances of qualification. But, so preoccupied are the Italian press with their own team, that not one of them chose to attend a Wales media day at Bobby Gould's training camp in Riccione.

It will be Giggs' first international for Wales since September last year, and his mere presence in the Welsh squad has raised confidence. The Manchester United winger has already played a part in successes against two top Italian sides, Internazionale and Juventus, in the European Cup this season.

Now Gibbs hopes that, by being with his countrymen for this game and next Wednesday's encounter with Denmark at Anfield, he will underline his much-questioned commitment to Wales.

Giggs has not played in a Wales friendly since making his debut on 16 October 1991, as an 84th minute substitute for Eric Young in a 4-1 defeat in Germany. He was just 17 then. In the 51 Wales internationals since then, Giggs has played in just 22, scoring five goals. He has missed 29 matches with a variety of injuries.

"The criticism hurts," he admitted yesterday. "I'm a proud Welshman, I've never said anything else but that. It hurts because all my family are Welsh and they read that sort of criticism and it hurts them too. But I am used to it all now. At first it hurt, but it's been going on for a long time now, I'm just used to it.

"It has never been the case that United frown on me playing friendlies for Wales. I came into the Welsh squad when I was 17 and even then Alex Ferguson was resting me for games for United and he thought that if he was resting me for United and there was a Welsh game coming along, and I was say 17 or 18, then I should still rest - he didn't want me to be burnt out at 26."

Giggs still feels the need to explain his Welshness. He said: "I was seven when I moved from Cardiff to the north. But I feel a strong Welshman - that's what I am. All my family are Welsh, my mum and dad are Welsh and I see them regularly. From say seven to 13 or 14, I went back home every school holidays, so I was always there in Cardiff."

He even claims to be a Cardiff City fan, delighted with their promotion to the Second Division. "Cardiff are still the team whose results I look out for," he said. "I've got a lot of friends in football and I look for their results too, but Cardiff are the first I look at and I'm delighted that they are flying at the moment."

While Wales are hoping for patriotic input from Giggs, the Romanians have a different approach to the problem of motivating their squad in the run-up to their European qualifier against Hungary on Saturday. Their players are being played patriotic songs to try to inspire them to beat their neighbours for the first time in 63 years. A private television station broadcast a show recorded on Tuesday at Saftica, Romania's training camp near Bucharest, showing a band singing nationalist ballads before the entire squad, who were still in their training kit.