The Brazilian-born forward endured a mixed night on
his return to action following the hamstring injury which
restricted his participation in last month's Champions
By Richard Jolly
All eyes were on the Brazilian-born Diego Costa, the striker
bound for Chelsea fresh from leading Atletico Madrid to the
league title, as Spain launched the defence of their world
crown in calamitous fashion.
PERFORMANCE AGAINST NETHERLANDS
Encouraging for 45 minutes, albeit with understandable signs
of ring-rustiness after a lay-off and a couple of caveats,
Costa’s most positive contribution was to win the penalty
Xabi Alonso converted. He had the nous to ensure Stefan de
Vrij caught his trailing leg but it was the preceding run that
was particularly revealing.
Costa made a series of intelligent darts in behind the Dutch
defence – on this occasion to meet Xavi’s through ball – and
added another dimension to Spain’s game. Alonso, in
particular, looked for him with piercing, forward passes; it
was less tiki-taka, more Liverpool a la Rafael Benitez, when
Alonso aimed for Fernando Torres in similar style. He also
illustrated the benefits of picking a specialist striker, rather
than the false nine Cesc Fabregas; with an out-and-out
attacker, Holland ran the risk of letting Costa spring the
offside trap if they pushed up to try and compress the
The other aspect of Costa’s teamwork was his willingness
to show for the ball, to hold it up and lay it off to
midfielders which allowed Xavi, David Silva and Andres
Iniesta to take possession in the final third. Costa’s work
ethic was excellent until tiredness told, and while he
appeared unperturbed by the crowd, who took every
opportunity to boo and jeer a player they percieve as a
Brazilian turncoat, temperamental failings were apparent
when he seemed to headbutt Bruno Martins Indi. Even though
the Dutchman exaggerated the contact, Costa was still
fortunate to escape a red card.
The other blight came in front of goal. Costa was not at his
sharpest, as he showed with his hesitation when granted
an initial chance to shoot; that delay allowed Ron Vlaar to
get a block in. His second effort was blazed well wide. At
the same time it was perhaps understandable given his
recent injury problems; he certainly isn’t at his sharpest and,
in the second half, made a negligible impact until his
substitution, which was a clear sign that he has been rushed
back too soon.
Vlaar prospered in his personal duel with Costa, but while he
profited by moving around to take on the other centre-
backs, who found him harder to contain, one moment with
Martins Indi cast a shadow over his night.
HE'D BE PERFECT FOR...
Chelsea, which is just as well as they will sign him for £32
million. Costa scored more league goals last season than
Samuel Eto’o, Torres and Demba Ba mustered between them.
A comparison could be drawn with the Cameroonian, utterly
ineffective in his country’s defeat to Mexico three hours
earlier, and a striker who lacks his physicality and
Chelsea’s style should suit Costa better than Spain’s does.
If the world champions are amending their gameplan to
accommodate Costa, he should be integral to Chelsea’s. Jose
Mourinho’s long-standing belief in a counter-attacking game
means Costa’s directness will be vital. Chelsea will look to
get the ball forward quicker than Spain do.
Mourinho lamented Chelsea’s lack of a striker last season –
and compared to Manchester City and Liverpool, they
certainly didn’t have a prolific scorer in attack – but he will
be part finisher, part foil. Costa should be granted the job of
stretching defences and occupying centre-backs to create
room for Eden Hazard, Willian, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas to
exploit. As Didier Drogba was during Mourinho’s first spell in
charge, Costa should be a spearhead. As he is ideally
equipped to operate as a lone striker, he is a natural fit for
Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Regaining full fitness, hopefully. Because of the hamstring
injury Costa sustained at the Nou Camp on the final day of
the La Liga season, and which restricted his participation in
the Champions League final to nine minutes, he wasn’t
expected to start against Holland and he faded in the
second half before Torres replaced him.
His understanding with his Spain colleagues should improve
with more time together (although, after a 5-1 thrashing,
they may only have two more games in this World Cup). This
was just Costa’s third cap and, as eight of the other 10
starters play for Real Madrid or Barcelona and none for
Atletico, he represented an outsider. While there were
promising signs, they aren’t utilising him to his full potential