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Diego Costa plays... but Villa supplies the goals

AS AS 08/06/2014 Juanma Trueba

Diego Costa passed the test and David Villa found the net twice (after all, he was playing ‘at home’). That’s one way of applying the gloss to an otherwise unexceptional game – a friendly which, rather than by our own merits, our friends El Salvador let us win. To put it another way, it was a victory without suffering en route to Brazil.

The game ended better than it had started – a lot better. The most discerning figure for Spain during the opening half was the referee, the North American, Baldomero Toledo. Just two minutes after kick-off, he paid a personal tribute to his Hispanic ancestors – at least that’s the only way of comprehending his gift-wrapped penalty decision. Hernández, El Salvador’s keeper snatched the ball from under the feet of Diego Costa – an action which didn’t incur the slightest protest from the striker – for a foul or even for his delicate hamstring.

Cesc, who had been designated as Spain’s spot-kick taker, blazed his effort over the bar. If he did so intentionally, then he deserves an Oscar: two feigned stutters in his run-up followed by an abashed facial expression. He missed the target but, looking on the bright side, with the game being played at the home of the Washington Red Skins, at least his strike would have counted as a ‘field goal’.

Spain encountered practically no opposition at all from El Salvador during the opening 45 minutes and sprayed the ball about between themselves whilst waiting to hit long balls over the top of the defence. It was a tactic they tried it so often, even the players themselves looked bored but El Salvador’s advanced rearguard was too great a temptation to be ignored, in particular for Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso who slung one raking pass after another over the heads of their opponents. Yet Spain were unable to capitalize on those steady supply of inviting balls – and when they weren’t smothered by Hernández, the chances were spurned by poor control from the forwards.

Once again, Spain’s supreme domination had no correlation to the danger generated. Spain pass the ball about so much that the multi-coloured design was rubbing off poor old Brazuca and yet we still keep plugging away with the same strategy even when it is failing to bear fruits. Cesc later was presented with a couple of chances but either was thwarted by the defence or messed it up himself through sheer anxiety.

The best part of tonight was the confirmation that Diego Costa has made a full recovery. He scampered around incessantly (but was less involved than usual), lasted 73 minutes and didn’t dip out of any challenge; lizards regenerate quickly. Nor did Juanfran show any symptoms of his recent injury as he willingly joined the attack out on the right. And the Xabi Alonso-Koke holding pivot looked stable and secure.

Villa, Cazorla and Silva replaced Cesc, Pedro and Iniesta at the start of the second half and Spain immediately noticed a new freshness to their game. At the same time, El Salvador started to tire – they were happy to have emerged from the first half with the scores level, for them, this was worthy of a heroes’ welcome once they get back home.

The opener came following a lofted Xabi Alonso pass which Ramos nodded back into the box for Villa, who responded quicker than Costa. It wasn’t the prettiest move but it ignited the spark for Spain who tried it repeatedly, and always creating a threat.

La Roja pounded Henry Hernández’s goal, the keeper’s brave response has most probably earned him a contract somewhere in Europe; Busquets rattled the crossbar as del Bosque’s boys invented a new game: trying to score with 11 rivals in the penalty area.

Villa, the most practical in these situations, grabbed Spain’s second goal. He wanted to show that he hasn’t retired, he wants to play and that goals won’t make you feel sick as long as you have good digestion. Whoever is looking for Spain’s No.9, need look no further.

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