"A tough old tournament!" Boston United's Paul Green remembers facing champions Spain at Euro 2012 and getting his hands on Xavi's shirt... briefly

Former Leeds United and Derby County man on his major tournament appearance...

Paul Green training in Gdansk on June 13, 2012, the day before facing Spain.  Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/GettyImages)
Paul Green training in Gdansk on June 13, 2012, the day before facing Spain. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/GettyImages)

As Euro 2020 kicks off tomorrow evening, memories from one of the proudest moments of Paul Green's career will come flooding back.

The Boston United midfielder may have secured four promotions in his impressive career, but facing reigning World and European champions Spain in a major competition remains a highlight.

Green - who was without a club after turning down a new deal with Championship side Derby County - was called up to the Republic of Ireland's squad for Euro 2012 - jointly hosted by Poland and the Ukraine - after an injury to Keith Fahey.

Every tournament conjures up a group of death and Giovanni Trapattoni's men found themselves right there nine years ago, thrown in with Italy, Croatia and Spain.

Green, then 29, watched the opening game - a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Poznan's Stadion Miejski - from the bench.

But four days later he got his chance at the PGE Arena in Gdansk - the venue for this year's Europa League final which saw Villarreal defeat Manchester United following an epic penalty shootout.

Green replaced Glenn Whelan in the 80th minute with his side trailing 3-0, courtesy of a Fernando Torres double and a David Silva finish.

Paul Green controls the ball during a training session at the Benedetti Stadium of Borgo a Buggiano, prior to the tournament. Photo: FABIO MUZZI/AFP via Getty Images.

"To be honest, for me as a player it was a massive achievement," Green said.

"To play minutes in a major tournament was a plus as well. It was one of the proudest moments in my career."

As the midfielder took in his suroundings, there must have been some doubt the Irish would be able to claw back the three-goal deficit against a side that included Iker Casillas, Álvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Silva, Javi Martínez and Cesc Fabregas.

The good news was that Andrés Iniesta left the pitch the same minute as Green came on. The bad news was he was replaced by a fresh-legged Santi Cazorla.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni chats with Green. Photo: FABIO MUZZI/AFP via Getty Images

Within three minutes of his introduction, Green was watching Fabregas complete the scoring.

"I came on and we were 3-0 down. We lost 4-0," Green reminisced.

"I touched the ball three times and one of them was from the kick off."

Spain went on to win the tournament, which didn't surprise Green after what he'd witnessed first hand.

Facing Russia in a Euro 2012 qualifier. Photo: Getty Images

He said: "I couldn't believe it to be honest, playing the World and European champions, not many people can say that.

"The pitch had some unbelievable players on it at that time.

"They were at another level. They were all on the same wavelength and you couldn't get near them - they were probably three or four passes ahead of the Ireland team."

The full time whistle put Ireland out of their misery before the post-match shirt swapping began.

"I managed to get Xavi's," Green remembered, an exciting moment which was quickly reduced to frustration.

"I got it back to the hotel, put it in my bag and went down for a late night tea.

Green on the ball for United. Photo: Oliver Atkin

"But I'd gone back up to check on it and it had gone. Somebody had pinched it out my bag, I haven't got a clue who it was."

A 2-0 defeat to Italy, which Green again watched from the sidelines, saw Ireland finish bottom of the group.

There may have been frustration at boarding the plane home early, but looking back Green - who joined Leeds United two days after his country's final group match - only has fond memories.

"It was a tough old tournament with the teams we had in the group stages," he said. "But you'll never be able to take that experience away from me now."

As Green remembers his time at the Euros, two footballers with Boston connections will be involved in this year's tournament. Former Boston United striker Graeme Jones is now part of Gareth Southgate's coaching staff while ex-Boston Town player Robert Taylor is in Finland's squad.