One is a goalkeeper who’s won everything there is to win in football, the other the Premier League’s most dangerous striker. So why can’t Iker Casillas and Diego Costa turn it on for Spain?
Neither man had a great night as La Roja were beaten by Slovakia. Casillas made one excellent save but followed that up minutes later with the latest in a growing list of blunders. The captain mis-judged the flight of Juraj Kucka’s free-kick and almost dived past it, then wafted a hand, to no avail, at the ball as it flew into the net.
Costa, meanwhile, entered what may have been his best performance in Spain colours, but that isn’t saying much. He still lacked the sharpness that has plundered so many goals at club level. It’s not all his fault, though. Costa received little of the service that made him a success at Atletico Madrid and has helped begin his Chelsea career so spectacularly.
Too often Costa was outside the penalty area looking to get involved in the build-up. He has the technical ability to contribute, and already this season has done for the Blues. But when he trundles back into the penalty area the ball has to follow soon after. He comes alive in the 18-yard box and is routinely the quickest-thinker around. Swansea defenders are still wondering how Costa scored the third goal of his mid-September hat-trick.
The goal scored by Paco Alcacer was reminiscent of numerous Costa strikes but he never had that supply. Only when Spain got desperate did half-decent crosses come into the penalty area and then it was an unselfish off-the-ball run that helped give Alcacer the space to score. Costa stepped away from the defence, taking a marker with him, and the Valencia forward did the rest.
When Costa declared for Spain there were genuine questions as to how he would adapt to the intricate passing football favoured by this generation. The answer is he hasn’t. But nor have Spain altered how they play to get the best out of Costa. The result is an unsatisfying mish-mash that helps no one but the opposing defence.
It’s little better at the other end. Prior to the trip to Slovakia, Vicente Del Bosque bemoaned the lack of centre-backs eligible for Spain. Whether or not that’s a fair point, the Coach can’t question the quality of goalkeepers available. David De Gea ranks with Thibaut Courtois as one of the best in England but can’t dislodge the unreliable Casillas.
There can be no questioning Casillas’ contributions to Spain over his international tenure. That he has been a dignified servant to the national team and was, for a time, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, matters little when he flails at a powerful but otherwise straightforward free-kick.
Loyalty is a commendable quality but Del Bosque is at the point where it becomes a detriment. De Gea, Kiko Casilla and a handful of others are waiting for the gloves to be handed over on a full-time basis and if Casillas isn’t going to follow the lead of Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez and step aside, Del Bosque has a difficult decision to make.
It’s not the only one on his agenda either. How to get the best out of Costa – or if to proceed with the Costa experiment at all – needs addressing too. With Euro 2016 qualification group C blown wide open last night, solutions have to be found soon.