Spanish Reds ready for Belfast

Luis Garcia’s goal for Spain on Saturday was his country’s 999th ever goal. Despite what they may try to claim, the rest of the Spanish players will be desperate to be the one who gets the 1000th one.

After that 4-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein, Spain’s next match is against Northern Ireland. Joining Garcia in Spain’s squad are his Anfield team-mates Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina. Garcia was scored after coming on from the bench, with Xabi playing the whole game.

Football fans from Northern Ireland are still celebrating David Healey’s winner in the qualifying stages of last year’s World Cup, and no doubt the Liverpool trio have been told all about this by the England contingent at the club. Even more likely is that the Spanish lads have constantly reminded the English players about it, enjoying plenty of laughs at the expense of Gerrard and co.

Garcia doesn’t want to go back to Melwood now and hear the same sort of stick levelled at him. Luis said: “It will be a lot harder against Northern Ireland than against Liechtenstein, but we won’t accept anything less than returning with three points. We know some of their players from the Premier League; it will be a really tough game.”

Xabi was also quick to say how much he enjoyed being in the county, another part of the world where Liverpool fans can be seen in great numbers: “Every time we come here it is always nice for us as there are plenty of Liverpool fans and the people are friendly. Everyone wants to play in a good atmosphere and we expect that at Windsor Park.”

With Liverpool’s Spanish flavour these days, and the success brought to the club at the same time, Liverpool are also a popular side in Spain now. I’d not be surprised to hear Liverpool players of the future visiting Spain with their own countries to say similar things about Spain. At the same time, should Spain find themselves playing an international on Merseyside in the future, they might be pleasantly surprised at how many Spain shirts they saw.

Xabi Alonso, like Luis, is prepared to show the Northern Irish team plenty of respect and he also says it will be a tough match: “We know this side beat England so we know it is not going to be easy and we will give them respect. It is difficult to beat any side away from home in international football.”

Spain go into Wednesday’s game top of Group F on goal difference. With two teams qualifying from the group and no prospect of a play-off, goals could be important come the end of the qualifying phase.