"It was a very difficult decision, because I had to choose between the country of my birth, Brazil, and the country that has given me everything, Spain. I thought it over and over and decided the right thing to do would be to play for Spain because here I have achieved everything that I have in my life and it is here that I feel valued." With these words, spoken in an interview with his club website, Atlético Madrid striker Diego Costa paved the way for a call-up to the Spain squad for the upcoming Fifa friendly matches in November. At the same time, he thwarted the Brazilian Football Federation's bid to ensure the striker pulled on the golden shirt of the five-time world champion, which had planned to call Costa up to its squad this Thursday.
Luiz Felipe Scolari said last week that he had spoken to Costa and offered him the chance to be part of the squad that wins the country's sixth World Cup: "Because Brazil will be six-times champion." But Vicente del Bosque had also been on the phone and at a meeting with Costa at the Spain team's headquarters outside Madrid, the La Roja coach asked if the Atlético forward, this season's top scorer in the league, would consider playing for his adopted nation.
"Put simply, I have made my career in Spain. Everything I am, I owe to this country. It was a well-thought-out decision, but not a renunciation," said Costa, who added that he had told Del Bosque that acceptance by his soon-to-be teammates was important to him. "If they are in agreement, then I'll be delighted."
Simply, I have made my career in Spain. Everything I am, I owe to this country"
There is little to suggest that they won't be, even if Costa has enjoyed getting under the skin of Sergio Ramos in particular over the past couple of seasons. But there is no more lethal scorer in the division at the moment and few defenses have prevented Costa from finding his way through this year. On his debut in the Champions League last week he scored twice, and he has 11 in 10 Liga games.
Del Bosque has been tinkering with his formations in recent matches in moving back toward the model of a traditional number 9, with less emphasis on Spain's trademark tiki-taka. This is in part because other teams have become wise to the tactic, and Spain is having a harder time breaking down well-organized opponents. Barcelona's 7-0 aggregate hiding by Bayern in last season's Champions League semifinals may have been a watershed moment for the pinball-passing of the club side on which Spain's style is based. Costa adds a different dimension with his power, balance and two-footed prowess, although it comes at an awkward moment with the World Cup fast approaching and both Álvaro Negredo and Fernando Torres in good form. The former seemed to have elbowed his way to the front of the queue with a goal scoring, man-of-the-match performance against Georgia - taking his tally to 10 in 19 games - but Torres is staking a renewed claim while Costa's Atléti teammate, David Villa, is the national side's top scorer.
Scolari may well be kicking himself after calling up Costa for two friendlies and then discarding him for last summer's Confederations Cup, a decision that seems to have tipped the balance for Spain: Brazil cannot call on the likes of Romario or Ronaldo in these possession-based times. Neymar is the new star of jogo bonito, but in the pure striking stakes Scolari has a fairly mixed bag at the moment: Zenit's Hulk is prolific for club but not country and will be inactive for long spells ahead of the tournament due to the Russian calendar. Jo is much-improved alongside Ronaldinho at Atlético Mineiro, but is hardly a Ronaldo or Romario. Alexandre Pato's career is being played out like Benjamin Button's. Other options are either aging - Fred, Luis Fabiano - or remain too inexperienced at the highest level.
Costa has said he will have no problem celebrating a goal scored against the country of his birth, where his family lives, if Spain and Brazil cross paths in 2014; there are many wondering if Scolari hasn't already popped the ball into his own net.