Xabi Alonso believes England offer the perfect proof that Spain should take nothing for granted in the FIFA World Cup™ Final on Sunday. The UEFA EURO 2008 winners will start as favourites against the Netherlands at Soccer City this weekend following their semi-final win over Germany.
Yet Alonso is astute enough to know the favourites tag counts for nothing. After all, England were tipped to beat the United States and Algeria and top their group. To their chagrin, they managed none of it. "England had a very tough game and the expectations were very high," said Alonso. "One bad game and you are out. That is how it works in the World Cup and that should be a warning to us on Sunday."
With Fernando Torres on the bench and Jose Reina consigned to his role as understudy to Iker Casillas, Alonso was the nearest thing to a Premier League player in the Spain starting line-up against Germany. Alonso spent five years working with Rafael Benitez at Liverpool before switching to Real Madrid last summer.
Alonso has nothing but happy memories from his time on Merseyside, although it is clear the midfield star has now moved on. "I don't know if I am playing better than I did when I was at Liverpool," he said. "I really enjoyed my five years there but now I am in Spain with Real Madrid. I feel as if I am in a good moment so I don't really think about my form."
One bad game and you are out. That is how it works in the World Cup and that should be a warning to us on Sunday.
Alonso might not attract the same attention as midfield colleagues Xavi and Andres Iniesta, around whom so much of Spain's fabulous passing game is based. However, his job operating slightly further back is just as important. His reading of a game is on a par with anyone in the world and his natural ability to retain possession in the tightest of situations fits in perfectly with Spain's game plan.
"It is a privilege to be among this group of players," he said. "There is so much quality. I have always tried to give my best so I never worried that I would not find a way into the side. We have great competition and that is good for the team because it brings the best out of everyone.
"Whenever you are playing you have to be ready and whenever you are on the bench you have to believe you will come on. You have to support your team-mate because that is part of football. There is a good atmosphere in the team and so far things are going smoothly. We are enjoying this tournament and want to do something massive for the whole country."