Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque will be crossing his fingers that Atletico Madrid centre-forward Diego Costa is indeed all he’s been cracked up to be ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, with the defending champions’ other strikers showing familiar signs of waning.
Costa – who appeared twice in friendlies for homeland Brazil before switching allegiances to Spain – is the shortest priced La Roja striker to finish top scorer in this summer’s showpiece at 25/1.
His adopted country will need him to show the same sharpness in front of goal displayed this season for Atleti – who have benefitted to the tune of 34 La Liga and Champions League goals – if Del Bosque is to lead Spain to successive World Cups at 7/1 odds.
Not for the first time in recent years, the veteran coach finds his centre-forward ranks in relative disarray, with the next shortest-priced Spanish striker to take the Golden Boot – Manchester City’s 40/1 shot Alvaro Negredo – currently stuck in a 13-game goalless rut.
Chelsea’s Fernando Torres – also at 40/1 – has found the net once in his last 14 appearances for the Blues and last played for his country in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
His sometime international strike partner David Villa has become increasingly marginalised at Atleti during Costa’s stellar campaign – which, incidentally, is the first season the 25-year-old has claimed more than ten league goals – and was dropped for the recent visit of Jose Mourinho’s side.
The 32-year-old is 66/1 to top score in Brazil, but with only a brace against Celta Vigo to show from his last 12 matches, it’s difficult to see Villa retaking the prize he jointly won in South Africa four years ago.
Juventus’ Fernando Llorente – who put a difficult start to life in Turin behind him with a run of 11 goals in 19 mid-season games – has also found hitting the back of the net tough of late, with five in his last 17 Old Lady outings. He’s 80/1 to finish top of the scoring charts in Brazil.
Spanish fans will point to the fact that Spain have hardly been overburdened with in-form strikers at any point over the past decade, yet still head into the samba jamboree off the back of three tournament victories in the last six years.
However, no team from outside the continent has claimed a World Cup win in South America and, as Spain’s 7/1 fourth-favourite odds suggest, Del Bosque will need Costa to carry through his freakishly fine form from this season into the summer if La Roja are to make history once more.