SOCCER

Diego Costa makes case for Spain shirt

Atlético striker moves to top of scorers' chart and commits to La Roja

Diego Costa yells after missing a penalty against Celta.
Diego Costa yells after missing a penalty against Celta.uly martín

“The decision has been made, now it depends on Fifa,” said Diego Costa after a weekend brace against Celta took him to 10 goals for the season and the top of the Liga scoring charts. The decision in question is to play for the Spanish national team, for which he is eligible having been granted citizenship over the summer and only having represented his country of birth, Brazil, in an unofficial match. Costa and the Spanish Football Federation finalized the player’s switch last week but its Brazilian counterpart has asked the world governing body to refer the matter to the Dispute Resolution Chamber, which is chaired by a Spaniard, Juan Padrón.

It is a curious situation for a player who until quite recently wasn’t wanted even by Atlético Madrid, which bought Costa from Braga in 2006 for a song but then loaned back to the Portuguese side, and then to Celta, and later Albacete. Atlético then sold him to Valladolid and exercised a buy-back option a year later. After a serious injury, the Brazilian was loaned out again, to Rayo, and only last season became a fixture in the Atlético side, scoring 20 goals in all competitions.

That was enough for Liverpool to table a bid of over 20 million euros this summer, which the player rejected to remain in the capital. This season he has already bettered his tally for any full campaign prior to 2012-13 and is firmly in the frame to represent Spain at next year’s World Cup in Brazil.

For some time Vicente del Bosque has been experimenting with a natural number nine to spearhead the national side, adding a bit of bustle to the tiki-taka model. Costa is the front-runner at the moment with Fernando Torres out of form, Fernando Llorente out of sight and mind in Turin and Roberto Soldado in something of a slump after his transfer to Tottenham. In the current squad for the qualifiers against Belarus and Georgia only Manchester City’s Álvaro Negredo is an out-and-out striker, Swansea’s midfielder-turned-forward Michu having been called up to replace Costa’s injured teammate David Villa.

Spain has given me everything and if I’m selected, I’ll do the best I can”

“I have forged my career here independently of being born in Brazil. Spain has given me everything and if I am selected to play for the national team, I will do the best that I can,” Costa said Sunday after a poacher’s goal that Diego Godín initially claimed with a wagged finger and an impish smile after both players appeared to connect with Luis Filipe’s low cross. His second was a display of acceleration, balance and strength that will have had Del Bosque stroking his mustache in anticipation.

Atlético’s eighth win of the season took it to 24 points, level with Barcelona at the top of the table. The Catalan club extended its own perfect record with a 4-1 win over Valladolid at Camp Nou. Belying the tired notion of “Messidependence,” Alexis, Xavi and Neymar all chipped in with goals to edge Barça toward the 30-mark already.

Real Madrid remained in touch with the top two courtesy of another last-gasp victory. Álvaro Morata and Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the last five minutes of play to deny Levante, which twice led and brought up 2-1 on 86 minutes. It was Real’s third late, late salvage job of the season and the fifth league match in which the Bernabéu side had conceded first. Carlo Ancelotti has quite a bit of homework to do this international break, with only Gareth Bale to work with as the Welsh international continues his bid for match fitness after a series of niggling injuries.

Villarreal quietly rose into fourth with another commanding display to defeat Granada 3-0, while Getafe moved up into fifth after seeing off Betis 3-1.

In Madrid, Rayo picked up a valuable three points in a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad, which now hasn’t won a game since August. Paco Jémez’s side twice hit the woodwork in the first half and played some decent stuff against a team struggling to find the form of last season, or even this one, when it put Lyon to the sword in the Champions League qualifiers. An 89th-minute Jonathan Viera effort separated the sides. “It was an unfair result,” said Sociedad coach Jagoba Arrasate as his team slipped to 15th.

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