If Roberto Soldado’s scoring drought – we’ll call it that because there’s something unpleasant, almost deceiving about penalties – wasn’t enough to keep him out of Spain’s squad for next summer’s World Cup, the form and availability of Diego Costa is.
Soldado’s decision to move on from Valencia this past summer wouldn’t have been taken lightly. Even with Fernando Torres and to a lesser extent David Villa “out of form,” the current Tottenham striker knew that it would be a struggle to keep his place in the Spanish squad, even with a hat-trick to his name in a game against Venezuela early last year.
But Costa’s impact at Atletico Madrid and in La Liga as a whole has been phenomenal. We’re looking at a striker who thus far has surpassed Lionel Messi (eight) and matched Cristiano Ronaldo for league goals with 13.
We’re forgetting about the loss of Radamel Falcao, almost as if his presence at Atletico was an age ago. Costa has been in such good form that there’s an aura around him now, one that forces audiences to stand up in expectation for something positive and even impressive to happen. If this sounds like hyperbole, it’s probably because so few could have seen the Brazilian-born forward reaching these heights.
By comparison, Soldado is now well down the pecking order, with every other major Spanish striker, bar Fernando Llorente, doing enough to either retain a position or force the Spurs forward out of the squad.
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Needless to say, Soldado doesn’t have the reputation or the familiarity with his international teammates as Villa or Torres do. Those two, provided they’re fit, will be among the first on the plane. And why not? Their success at club and international level is as good as it gets, with only a domestic league title yet to feature on Torres’ list of achievements. Soldado’s inclusion at the World Cup will be purely on scoring merit – and that’s not a swipe at either of the other two forwards.
Even Alvaro Negredo has done a lot to impress since swapping La Liga for the Premier League. It’s not that Soldado has been bad – importantly, this Tottenham side are not set up to get the best out of him – but that others have been so good. Costa’s confirmation of his choice to represent Spain at international level has only added another name to battle for the small pool of forwards who will be selected. At this point, Costa is far and away the most in form.
Brazil haven’t taken this lightly, either. To say the Brazilian Football Federation are upset would be an enormous understatement. They’ve even attempted to revoke Costa’s nationality, to which the government put a halt. But they danced around the issue of his inclusion for long enough. Yes, Neymar is in fantastic form for club and country, but beyond him, the talent pool of forwards at Luiz Felipe Scolari’s disposal isn’t what it was. With Spain unquestionably the best in the world, Brazil know they’ll only be strengthened by the addition of Costa. And remember, the Atletico forward hasn’t broken any rules here.
But Soldado’s problem is one that most Spanish players have to face: there are simply too many options for Vicente Del Bosque that some, even those who would walk into other national sides, have to be overlooked. Spain’s occasional deployment of the false nine means they’re only likely to take three natural strikers.
Form is an issue that Soldado can overcome. But there’s little he can do when a player like Costa comes onto the scene and automatically – as he’s been promised – takes up one of the much-desired places on the plane to Brazil.
Will Soldado overcome this hurdle and be included in Spain’s World Cup squad?
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