[EURO 2012 PORTRAIT] Collectively, Spain has nearly passed the opposition off the field while surrendering only one goal in five games. But this was to be expected from La Roja, which entered Euro 2012 as the reigning Euro and World Cup champion. Andres Iniesta's dribbling and ball control has been dazzling. Xavi's passing has been near perfect. But so far, Spain's MVP has been Xabi Alonso.
Alonso hails from a proud soccer family. His father won successive La Liga crowns with Real Sociedad in the early 1980s, and Alonso's older brother Mikel played for English club Charlton Athletic this past season.
Alonso's father played a major role in shaping his son into the gritty yet technically brilliant player we see command Spain and Real Madrid's midfield today. Periko Alonso taught his son that you did not need to be flashy as a center midfielder to help your team, but rather a smooth passer who treats possession as an utmost priority. Alonso recalls that he and his father would play games that, "were about passing the ball, and not so much kicking it at the goal."
Real Sociedad, the team Alonso dreamed of playing for as a child, first noticed his technical brilliance. Alonso progressed through Real Sociedad's youth and reserve squad, and at the age of 18 Alonso made his first-team debut in a Copa del Rey game in December of 1999. Just a year later, Alonso earned a starting role and became team captain.
Alonso enjoyed four successful seasons at Sociedad, but his impressive play caught the attention of some of Europe's top clubs. In the summer of 2004 Alonso transferred to Liverpool, immediately winning a starting spot alongside captain Steven Gerrard. In Alonso's first season, Liverpool won the Champions League and Alonso scored the tying goal, capping off Liverpool's miraculous three-goal comeback against AC Milan. Alonso went on to make over 140 appearances for Liverpool before a $45 million move to Real Madrid in the summer on 2009.
Alonso's time with Madrid has been the most successful stretch of his career thus far. He has made 104 appearances for Madrid and earned FIFPro World XI team honors. Similar to his role with Spain, Alonso plays as a defensive midfielder with Madrid, tasked with winning the ball, retaining possession, and launching Madrid's lethal counterattack.
Despite playing the unglamorous role of defensive midfielder, the 30-year-old Alonso has shown that he is more than just a sheathe for Spain's renowned midfield. Only Barcelona forward David Villa (33) has scored more goals than Alonso (14) during Vicente del Bosque's tenure as Spain's coach. Alonso celebrated his 100th cap for Spain by scoring both goals in Spain's quarterfinal victory over France.
In the final, Alonso and Co., will face its toughest test against an in-form Italian midfield led by ageless Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo. If Spain emerges victorious, due credit will be lavished upon Xavi and Iniesta -- and the always humble Alonso will not mind one bit.