'Spain won't feel heat’ - Alonso
IRELAND fan Xabi expects a battle tonight but says side will be calm
LIKE A SHOWER of rain on a beach on the costa, pressure is so easily absorbed by Spain's international football team that it's hardly an issue.
Tonight's game in Gdansk between Spain and Ireland would be a hard one for the UEFA marketing team to flog to the disinterested. Not quite the historical gudge match which we saw last night between Holland and Germany or Russia and Poland 24 hours earlier.
Not quite a a do-or-die game for either side, just a game that Spain are expected to win and win well, like so many games they've played on their way to collecting so many trophies in the last while.
Expectation levels are different, as you'd expect when two nations clash with such a gulf between the two squads - an Irish squad containing a huge number of players who have never played in the Champions League and a Spanish panel which is crammed full of players who are expected to win that tournament every year.
So pressure levels are different but Spain's stars insists they just mop it up.
“All of us can live with the pressure and the pressure is nothing new for us,” said Spain star Xabi Alonso at last night's pre-match press conference.
“It's tough to win and we have to take it step by step, even though is pressure on us, we know if we concentrate and give 100% in each game we have an opportunity to win.
“With the Irish teams you know they are very rapid, they will fight ever since the first minute to the last they will try to play together as a team, it's going to be a tough game
“They know us and know our characteristics so we have to be patient, we will have to try and score an early goal as that would makes things easy after wards but it won't be easy and anything can happen,” added Alonso.
It's a theory that his team-mate Cesc Fabregas agrees with. “I believe in our players and I believe we can play well. We're used this with the national team it's like with our clubs, we play for big clubs. We play against great opponents and respect them, respect their players,” said the Barcelona man, aware that last season was seen as a major disappointment for his side as they didn't finish off the season as champions of Spain and Europe.
For Irish players like Keith Andrews and Shane Long, just staying in the Premier League was an achievement. Different strokes, then. That much is clear from the squads and their make-up.
Someone like Fabregas would run the national team if available for a country like Ireland (though you'd have to wonder if Trapattoni would pick Fabregas if he qualified, just a thought) but with Spain he's a peripheral figure and has onbbnly come into his own since the first game at Euro 2012.
“The truth is that in the national team I haven't played that often, I've been with the team seven years and never stopped thinking that my moment will come,” says former Arsenal man Fabregas.
“I am always excited even when I play for 10 or 20 minutes and this has been fantastic, to be in the starting XI and I hope it will continue for some time.”
Depressing to think that the pre-tournament debate in Ireland centred on whether Paul McShane should be in ahead of Kevin Foley, while in Spain they argue over whether space in the side should be found for a world-class talent like Fabregas.
It's a fact of life that every member of the Irish squad - indeed any kid in Ireland - could name two-thirds of the players in the Spain squad, but would the Spaniards know a single Irish player, bar maybe Robbie Keane.
Have they heard of Paul Green in Zaragoza? Is Seville aware of who Shane Long is?
Yet Alonso insists that Spain are taking us seriously and they've obviously been reading up on Ireland, as Alonso is aware of the talk that Trapattoni will change his formation and maybe change his 4-4-2 formation to accommodate an extra man in midfield.
“We know that one of them will drop back, that's the option we are working on,” said Alonso.
“Trapattoni has said they will have a clear idea of how to approach the game, and our standards won't change but we will be aware of their qualities.
“We saw their last game against Croatia, even when they were behind in the scoreline they played until the last minute,” added the ex-Liverpool man, who went on to speak - in perfect English - of his affection for us.
“I like Ireland. I have played there one summer when I was young and I really liked it, it's a great atmosphere there and they have great fans, I have friends in Ireland,” said Alonso, who spent a summer in Kells, Co Meath as a teenager.
“I played Gaelic football, played football, I really liked the culture, I was 13 when I went and enjoyed my time.”