Xabi Alonso is well equipped to
analyse Ireland's game given that he played with Robbie Keane at
Liverpool and came up against many of the Irish captain's team-mates in the English Premier League.
Less well known is that the Spanish midfielder, whose side
meet Ireland in Euro 2012 Group C in Gdansk on Thursday, spent a
summer in Kells, County Meath as a teenager learning English.
As well as playing football, he tried his hand at Gaelic
football and says knocking about with local youngsters gave him
a grounding in a more physical style of play than he was used to
back home in the Basque Country.
"I have a particular affection for Ireland because of the
time I spent there, for the great atmosphere their fans create
in the stadiums and their passion for the national team," Alonso
told a news conference at Gdansk's PGE Arena on Wednesday.
"I did play some Gaelic football and of course football and
I really like the culture," added the 30-year-old.
"At that time I had enough trouble speaking English and I
didn't have enough time to speak Irish," he said when asked if
he had picked up any of the language.
Spain are expecting to face a defensive Ireland, with wily
Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni employing similar tactics to
those that helped Chelsea eliminate Barcelona from the Champions
League last month.
As well as solidity at the back, both Alonso and Spain coach
Vicente del Bosque picked out several other Irish strengths the
world and European champions will be wary of as they seek to get
their bid to defend their title back on track after Sunday's 1-1
comeback draw against Italy.
"You know that they are always going to have a lot of pride
and they are going to fight from the first to the last minute,"
"They know our style and we know them well too from the
Premier League," he added, in reference to some of Spain's other
players with experience in England like Fernando Torres, David
Silva and Alvaro Arbeloa.
"Patience will be the key," Alonso said. "We need to try to
score as early as possible and it will be vital to go after the
game from the start."
Despite the best efforts of the Spanish reporters, Del
Bosque refused to reveal whether he will play without a
recognised striker again after deploying Cesc Fabregas as a
roving forward against Italy.
Turning to the Irish team, he said they had a lot more in
their armoury than merely pumping high balls into the penalty
area and were quite capable of playing the ball around on the
ground the way Spain do.
"They have two very good wingers and various players who are
individually very talented," he said.
"They are aggressive from the backs through to the forwards
and hopefully we can deal with that and dominate the game.
That's what it's all about."
Bayern overcome heartbreak of losing two finals in three seasons by beating Dortmund 2-1
Decision not to send off Bayern Munich defender Dante rankles with upbeat Dortmund boss
Heynckes becomes only the fourth manager to win the European Cup with two different teams
Dortmund striker could soon join German rivals and newly-crowned Champions League winners
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010