Friday 20 April 2018

Brazil left to count the cost as hotshot Diego Costa opts for Spain

Diego Costa scored 20 goals for Atletico Madrid last season
Diego Costa scored 20 goals for Atletico Madrid last season

Pete Jenson

AT THE start of the month, as English football deliberated over whether it was right to chase Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque sat down to lunch with Brazilian forward Diego Costa.

The courting paid off this week because Costa declared in a letter to the Brazilian FA, and to FIFA, that he wants to play for Spain.

There is no moral maze for the world and European champions - FIFA's rules mean that, despite appearing in a friendly for Brazil, the top-scorer in Europe can still play for them. Unashamedly they have pursued the switch.

Today, Costa was due to be named in Felipe Scolari's Brazil squad. But instead the coach said he had 'turned his back on his country' and he will now be named in Del Bosque's.

Football films have been made from weaker scripts. There's potential for Escape To Victory meets Kramer vs. Kramer. Especially if the custody battle ends with him scoring the winner in the World Cup final - Scolari being played by Gene Hackman, obviously.

Costa lived in Brazil until the age of 15, when he went to Portugal with his father and signed for Braga. Aged 17 he was sold to Atletico Madrid where, after several loan spells and a serious knee injury, he finally blossomed on loan at Rayo Vallecano in the second half of the 2011-12 season.

With nine goals in 16 games he kept them up, showing the first signs that beyond the weather-beaten exterior there was a world-class forward emerging.

The following season he went back to Atletico Madrid as Falcao's able partner and this season he has replaced him. With 11 goals in 10 games nobody has scored more in Europe.

This July the 26-year-old gained dual nationality. He still pronounces “futbol” as “futebol” but he has a Spanish passport and on 3 October, before Spain's last two World Cup qualifiers, Del Bosque met him for lunch and told him that he wanted him.

Jorge Perez, the secretary of the Spanish FA, was also present, as was Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo. Costa told them that if selected he would accept.

On 14 October the Brazilian FA said that, though it had not “capped” Costa, it intended to. Coach Scolari inadvertently confirmed this when he was caught out by a practical joke on Spanish radio. He told a prank caller impersonating Cerezo: “If the World Cup was today I would bring him to Brazil.”

Was “Big Fil” bluffing to cover himself against the potential embarrassment of rejecting someone who then wins the World Cup with Spain?

Scolari called Costa up for the next round of international friendlies ahead of schedule, last week claiming the player needed extra time to apply for a visa to enter the US and Canada, where Brazil play next.

Spain say Costa needed to go through no such application process. He will be named again in the full Brazil squad tomorrow but his letter rejects the call-up.

Brazil could legally fight for him, saying as World Cup hosts they had no official games to play - an argument that partially falls down on their failure to pick him for the Confederations Cup.

The case is reminiscent of Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Pepe switching to Portugal. And just to thicken the plot: the Portugal manager at the time of Pepe's switch was Scolari; and the agent of Pepe, Scolari and Costa is Jorge Mendes.

It is international football's biggest “signing”. And it will mean Spain add Costa to a born-again Fernando Torres, David Villa, Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado as their striking options as they look to defend their crown in Brazil.

Independent News Service

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