Soccer-World-Spain's Costa a potential thorn in Brazil's side


By Iain Rogers

MADRID, April 28 (Reuters) - A World Cup final featuring hosts Brazil and holders Spain is not an unlikely scenario and Diego Costa could find himself playing a starring role for his adopted country against his native one on July 13.

The Brazil-born forward raised hackles among his compatriots when he accepted an invitation late last year to play for world and European champions Spain.

The 25-year-old, who began his professional career in Portugal before joining Atletico Madrid as a teenager in 2007, has developed into one of the game's most prolific scorers in the past two seasons and will bring added value to a Spain team who have often played without a traditional centre-forward.

It has taken him a while to realise his potential, in part because of injury, and he had unspectacular loan spells at a number of top-flight Spanish clubs including Celta Vigo and Rayo Vallecano.

Tall, athletic and powerful in the air, he has excellent touch and vision and is a handful for opposition defenders who find it tough to cope with Costa's physical approach, which sometimes pushes the boundaries of fair play.

Atletico's success over the past two seasons is in large part due to Costa's goals as he filled the void left by the departure of Colombia striker Radamel Falcao for Monaco.

He has had a number of battles with some of his new Spain team mates, including centre-back Sergio Ramos, prompting suggestions there may be friction within the squad over his selection.

Coach Vicente Del Bosque has dismissed that out of hand and there was a harmonious atmosphere when Costa made his debut for Spain in a 1-0 friendly victory over Italy in March.

"That is the least of my worries," Del Bosque said in a interview with As sports daily in February.

"Everyone knows Diego Costa and among his strengths as a forward are his fight, his ability to annoy and not let anyone relax, to be a pain for defences.

"If we take that away from Diego Costa we take away a large part of his value."

Known for his ability to foster harmony, Del Bosque said Costa's combative on-field persona was very different to how he behaved away from the pitch.

"He is a courteous lad, friendly, nice, far from the aggressive Diego Costa you see in matches. Players who have emotion and hunger to win are those who are good for the national team.

"He could be a useful player for us, who links up well and makes runs into space. He is an interesting player for us."

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has said Costa was "turning his back on the dream of millions" in choosing Spain over Brazil. But Del Bosque will be hoping the player repays his faith if Costa is called into action at the finals, and his native country's loss could very much be Spain's gain. (Editing by Peter Rutherford and Mike Collett)