Euro 2012 Man of the Day: Xabi Alonso
He’s almost one of our own anyway, so Spain’s Xabi Alonso is long overdue his Euro 2012 Man of the Day award.
With the dazzling passing of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez garnering all the headlines, Xabi Alonso has always been a bit of a forgotten man in the Spanish midfield. For most casual fans he is best known for being on the receiving end of Nigel de Jong’s karate kick and for being the man at the centre of one of football’s longest running memes.
That’s grossly unfair, of course, on a superb player and last night Alonso emerged to take the plaudits, score twice against France and put Spain into the semi-final of Euro 2012.
Last night’s performance pushed Alonso onto most of today’s back pages but we have always had a soft spot for him in this country. His period living here, in Meath, was short but he played a bit of GAA and still speaks fondly of his time here for one summer in the mid-90s.
As you know, us Irish are suckers for anybody who says anything nice about us so we all like to keep an eye on how the midfielder gets on. If you are a Liverpool fan, you will be even more fond of the Real Madrid midfielder.
Alonso’s arrival on Merseyside coincided with the best period Liverpool had since their glory days. In his first year in England, Alonso helped the Reds land their fifth European Cup. He even scored the goal that made it 3-3 on that infamous night in Istanbul. The Spaniard’s place in Liverpool folklore has long been secured.
And just as his arrival heralded an upturn in fortunes, his departure did likewise. As our own Mark O’Toole pointed out on Twitter last night, Liverpool’s push to bring in Gareth Barry upset Alonso and led directly to his move to Real Madrid. That bit of ultimately fruitless business always looked dim. It looked really dim last night.
Alonso popped up in the box to score the opener, a smart header and then he was given the honour of taking the killer penalty in the final minute. On the occasion of his 100th cap for Spain, it was a glorious way for Alonso to celebrate.
And while the Barca duo of Xavi and Iniesta are rightly lauded, last night it was Alonso who had more touches than either player and he had more shots than anyone else in the strikerless team sent out by Vincente Del Bosque. It might be pushing it to say that Spain would not have won without him, but it would have been a lot more difficult without his excellence.
As we said, there have always been a large cohort around these parts who have a lot of respect for Xabi Alonso. We expect that group may spread a lot further after last night.