Costa a contender for La Roja

In selecting his squad ahead of tonight’s friendly clash with Italy, Spanish national Coach Vicente Del Bosque has shown that his eyes are set firmly on the future rather than the past. Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and Carles Puyol all miss out and, while Del Bosque insists he has chosen players specifically to face the Azzuri rather than to win the World Cup, the game at the Vicente Calderon is a key part of his preparation for Brazil.

“The extraordinary generation of players that helped us become champions have a place in my heart, but I also have to keep in mind that I need to be flexible and give those who can bring something to the team a chance,” Del Bosque told Cadena Ser. “I would be a poor national team Coach if I didn’t act in that way. I have a huge amount of affection for those who made us world champions but, at the same time, we have to look at those who are coming through.”

The most obvious nod towards change is in the selection of in-form Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa alongside Manchester City front man Alvaro Negredo. Throughout much of the qualifying competition, the Coach opted for a system containing no recognised striker with Cesc Fabregas deployed as a false nine, usually alongside Pedro Rodriguez and David Silva. Again, Del Bosque has insisted that the selection of Brazilian-born Costa is on the basis of his form with Atletico. No doubt he has picked Negredo for similar reasons, but it is clear that the Coach is seeking a longer-term solution to his striking conundrum. 

As with the squad as a whole, Del Bosque’s defensive selection stresses experience ahead of youth, with Juanfran, Javi Martinez, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Cesar Azpilicueta and Raul Albiol all in contention for a place against the Azzuri. He has also retained Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in midfield. At the same time, in keeping with Spain’s policy of maintaining a strong Under-21 squad as a supply line for La Seleccion, the young Real Madrid quartet of Jese Rodriguez, Isco, Alvaro Morata and Dani Carvajal have all been called up as Los Rojitos take on Germany.

Tonight’s game will revive memories of the Euro 2012 final in Kiev, when La Roja recorded a crushing 4-0 win over Italy, having drawn 1-1 with the Azzuri during the group stage. Then last year Spain condemned Cesare Prandelli’s side to defeat after a penalty shoot-out in their Confederations Cup semi-final in Brazil. Meanwhile, speculation in the Spanish Press on Tuesday suggested that Costa will start tonight alongside Iniesta and Pedro but that Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Ramos, who all missed training on Monday with minor knocks, could be on the bench.

As with all friendlies, performances are likely to be more important than the result as Del Bosque prepares for Brazil. So seldom do they lose, however, that a Spanish defeat is sure to be headline news, especially against a European rival, and therefore to be avoided.