Alonso salutes fans as he returns to hometown team

Imagine if, without fail, Spanish soccer teams reached the semifinals of the World Cup with the squad led by national icons.

That is why Xabi Alonso was happy to play for Real Madrid against his childhood team Malaga, in an exhibition game Friday.

“I was four years old when I went to Malaga,” said Alonso, who was born in the central Almeria region. “Of course I enjoyed it, but what is most important is that Madrid won the game 4-0.”

Alonso, one of the Spanish game’s most popular players, had already played twice before for the Malaga club, which he grew up supporting.

He left to join his hometown club Valencia in 1994 and became a household name when he left to play for Liverpool in 2004.

The Brazilian-born Alonso retired from the game in 2014 to take a role with Liverpool, where he was a part of the squad that won the Champions League. He returned to Liverpool after a brief stint with Bayern Munich.

“I am from Malaga and one of my former teams so playing at their stadium would be the most special day of my career,” Alonso said. “I have many friends here and that is always special.”

It was Alonso’s fifth appearance at Malaga’s Ciutat Esportiva Joaquín Iniesta, an Arena. “I am proud to have played here and it was amazing to come back to play for Madrid,” he said.

“The idea of playing against Malaga came out of nowhere,” Alonso said. “The Real Madrid players want to win games and they do not even think about playing in exhibition games.”

Spain’s national team has won three World Cups and eight European Championships in the past four decades.

Ronaldo is currently No. 1 in all of international football — having scored more goals than anyone else — though he will need to beat the record of retired French soccer great Michel Platini, who scored more than 500 times for club and country.

Malaga went through a period of disappointing performances, dropping out of Spain’s top tier in 2014 after losing 17 of 24 games. Malaga was resurrected this year under coach Jonatan Herrera.

AFCON II qualifier #Angolo #Malaga v #RealMadrid.

Photo by ELOY HERRERA / ABC DE MAPLE LEAF

#Marca pic.twitter.com/ehvUQzsuA5 — Sociedad Mundialista (@SociedadMundialista) September 7, 2017

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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