Alonso has fond memories of Irish experience

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.

PRIDE, FIGHT

"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," Alonso said.

"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."


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