Play for Brazil or Spain?

…Diego da Silva Costa is waiting for a call that could make him a World Cup-winning striker.

(Eurosport)

(Eurosport)

He has two options for which national team he might represent next year during soccer’s showcase event. One is Brazil, where he was born. The other is Spain, where he plays professionally and where he was recently granted citizenship.

That is some option. Brazil has home-field advantage at the 2014 World Cup finals, and it must be considered a favorite to win the tournament.

But Spain is the reigning champion and has young playmakers itching to help defend the trophy.

Put it this way, he is 24, almost middle-aged in sporting terms. Until seven months ago he was nobody’s must-have center forward. He bristled, he brooded, he played between the lines of chief striker and midfield, always in the service of Radamel Falcao, the No. 1 goal scorer for Atlético Madrid.

But when Atlético sold Falcao for €60 million, or $81 million, to Monaco, it was Costa’s cue to be the main man. He was ready, and many people knew it.

The red and whites of Madrid have long been prescient in finding and then cashing in on strikers. Raúl was born to that half of the city until a previous Atlético president abandoned the youth academy and let Raúl go to Real Madrid.

Fernando Torres blossomed there, was sold to Liverpool and is now a Chelsea player. Sergio Agüero, the utterly brilliant Manchester City forward, was once in harness with Diego Forlán but, again, both had their price, and Atlético had others in the wings.

Costa is now under the tutelage of Diego Simeone, the abrasive and cunning Argentine who became Atlético’s coach two years ago and has transformed the team. It is now, unquestionably, the third force in Spanish soccer.

The club finds, uses and then sells players, particularly strikers, as few others do. Yet by getting inside his players, by cajoling, bullying and persuading them, Simeone meshes them to become winners. The essence of it is that they run until the opponents drop, but in this day and age, there will always be questions about how one side can outrun and outlast another when both clubs field top professionals.

Twice now, Atlético has beaten Real Madrid in Real’s Bernabéu stronghold, in the King’s Cup final last May and a Liga game last Saturday, when Costa scored the winner. He didn’t simply score, with a fine run onto a pass from the young Spaniard Koke, Costa engaged in 90 minutes Saturday of surly, sly aggressiveness with Real’s two most brutish defenders, Sergio Ramos and Pepe.

Very few mix it with that pair and emerge victorious. Costa, the truly ugly-beautiful Brazilian, did it with a smile on his face, with eye-poking, rib-punching relish.

Right now, Del Bosque is waiting for FIFA to reply to Spain’s request to be allowed to field Costa in this month’s two World Cup qualifiers, against Belarus and Georgia. Scolari, who selected Costa for two friendly games against Italy and Russia last March, has since preferred Fred, Jô, Pato or Damião.

But when Scolari heard that Spain was moving in on his discarded player, the Brazilian scoffed that FIFA was moving back to the days when Alfredo Di Stéfano converted from Argentina to Spain, and when Ferenc Puskas played for both Hungary and Spain.

“In a year or two,” Scolari jibed, “a country will probably contract 20 players and make a national team. They can play 5, 10, a hundred friendlies, and in the 101st play an official game and FIFA will recognize it.”

“If Del Bosque calls me up, how could I say no?” Costa responded when the Brazilian publication Lance! asked whether he might wear the red of Spain rather than the yellow of Brazil.

“Nobody has yet contacted me,” he said in a television interview in Spain last weekend. “But I won’t say no to whoever calls me up first.”

Source: NY Times

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