Diego Costa cut a forlorn figure as he was withdrawn from the European Championship qualifier against Macedonia for Spain on Tuesday night. There was no facade to cover his clear exasperation at once again failing to find the net in the colours of La Roja, who narrowly won the game thanks to a Juan Mata goal. Costa has now played nine games for Spain since being granted Spanish citizenship, and those appearances have only yielded one goal.
Strikers should by no means be judged merely on the number of goals they score in today’s game, especially in a Spain team that possesses such an abundance of gifted attacking midfielders, but considering Costa scored 20 League goals in his debut Chelsea season last year and is widely perceived to be one of the deadliest strikers in world football, his Spain form being extremely perplexing.
After picking up a booking in the first half against Macedonia, Costa will miss the next qualifier against Luxembourg on October 9, the team against whom he scored his only goal for Spain. This will present an opportunity for Del Bosque to re-evaluate his other striking options, and the extent of the impact of whichever striker is chosen to play in that game could determine whether or not Costa will be chosen as a starter in the future.
Paco Alcacer is, at this point in time, the most likely to replace Costa. The 22-year-old Valencia forward is more prolific for club than country – he has scored four goals in his eight senior appearances for La Roja whilst struggling to hold down a regular starting spot at Valencia with the return to form of Alvaro Negredo.
Another option would be Alvaro Morata, who should by October have returned from the calf injury that has kept him out for the start of the season at Juventus. The former Real Madrid man invariably seems to pop up with a goal, an asset that could be vital for this Spain team in matches where they are struggling to find a breakthrough against seemingly impregnable defences.
The advantage that these two strikers have over Costa is the fact that they have both played in the Spanish youth ranks – a major factor in Spain’s recent successes is that the players have had years of becoming familiarised with not only the style of play that the senior squad employ but also with each other whilst playing for the youth teams.
Costa, on the other hand, is used to playing the antithesis of Spain’s playing style, whether it be the counter-attacking of Atletico Madrid or the directness with which Chelsea play.
Understandably, the Spain Coach, along with the players and fans, are desperate to see Costa’s club form transferred to the international level, because this Spain team with an in-form Costa at its tip could be devastating. The man himself acknowledges the work that he as to do in order to remain a La Roja starter.
“I've got a lot to improve and I've got to start scoring goals," he said after the victory against Macedonia. “There will be no lack of effort on my part. I'll keep working hard at my club to improve. I am always filled with ambition whenever I get called for the national team.
“On a personal level I am not happy because I didn't manage to score, although I'm happy with the victory. We've gained three points which are important for our qualification.”
Spain will face Ukraine after the Luxembourg game, by which time Euro 2016 qualification should be secured. Whether or not Costa is in the starting line-up for that tournament, though, will remain to be seen.