Spain gambling on Diego Costa
Brazil-born striker can create history with Spain
With such a mouth-watering array of midfielders at his disposal, you might think that Vicente del Bosque would be eagerly anticipating the World Cup.
But he's praying his one big gamble - the selection of the much-heralded striker Diego Costa in the final 23-man squad - will pay off.
After an astonishing season with Atletico Madrid, Costa limped off the field in the Champions League final last month, clutching his hamstring and wondering if he had pushed his body too far at just the wrong time.
Costa was born in Brazil and actually played for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side twice last year before deciding to take up Spanish nationality.
Because his two Brazilian caps had been won in international friendlies, Scolari was powerless to stop him.
But his wrath was merciless.
"A Brazilian player who refuses to wear the shirt of the Brazilian national team and compete in a World Cup in your country is automatically withdrawn," he said at the time.
"He is turning his back on a dream of millions, to represent our national team, the five-time champions in a World Cup in Brazil."
But Costa's dream isn't over yet.
On Monday, he showed no ill-effects when he trained with Spain ahead of their final friendly on Sunday (Singapore time) against El Salvador before travelling to Brazil.
Costa said: "I didn't think they would let me train from the start but we did some tests and I'm well.
"I think I can be fit for the match against Holland, even for the friendly (in Washington)."
Costa's importance cannot be overstated for the winners of the last three major titles - Euro 2008, Euro 2012 and South Africa World Cup.
Spain remain one of the most creative teams on the planet, but they lack a serious cutting edge to their play.
With Costa, del Bosque would have had aggression, invention and clinical finishing.
He would have had a player who, while perhaps not as technically accomplished as others at the tournament, still brings a spontaneity for which no opponent can legislate.
Without Costa, del Bosque will have to look at other options, like Fernando Torres, who has struggled since moving to Chelsea, or Alvaro Negredo, who hasn't scored since January.
The coach may even want to dispense with a striker altogether, choosing to field an attacking midfielder as a false No. 9 instead.
Cesc Fabregas has certainly filled that role with distinction in the past, most notably during Euro 2012. David Silva might be another candidate for the role.
Whoever del Bosque chooses, Spain will have to hit the ground running.
They open their campaign with a re-run of the World Cup final four years ago - facing off against Louis van Gaal's impressive Dutch side.
A difficult looking clash with Chile follows before the final match with unfancied Australia.
This is a group that title contenders must win. The runners-up will almost certainly face hosts Brazil in the next round.
Spain have talent, especially in the midfield with the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andreas Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, but they need more than pretty passing if they are to become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962. They need a first-class striker.
"This generation is unique," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez recently.
"They are the only team in world football to win three consecutive major international events.
"That has never happened before. This is a generation that sees a last chance… and the group have a unique opportunity to be the first European team to win in South America."
If that's to happen, they may need Costa.
I'm very happy. I am buzzing to with Spain to play in the World Cup in Brazil. I'm delighted. We will fight for the world cup.
— Spain's Diego Costa
Striker Diego could haunt Brazil
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.
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.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has said Costa was "turning his back on the dream of millions" in choosing Spain over Brazil.
But Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be hoping the player repays his faith, and his native country's loss could very much be Spain's gain. - Reuters.
Del Bosque keeps Spain's feet on the ground
Spain launch their bid to retain the World Cup in Brazil with a richly talented squad and the ideal man to keep their feet on the ground as they chase a fourth successive major title - coach Vicente del Bosque.
There is little that can ruffle the 63-year-old (above), who took charge of La Roja after they won Euro 2008 and led them to victory at the World Cup in South Africa two years later, before they defended their Euro crown in 2012.
It was no easy task coping with the expectation generated by the triumph at Euro 2008, when a side coached by the late Luis Aragones won Spain's first major trophy since the 1964 European Championship.
Aragones, who died in February and is regarded as the father of the modern Spain team, got rid of the hierarchy and out-sized egos in the team while introducing the brand of quick-passing football that had brought success at Barcelona.
Del Bosque had strong credentials for the job and has been a success while ensuring the players are the protagonists. He rules by conviction and is not swayed by the opinions of fans and the media.
As Spain coach, del Bosque has showed his ability to ease tensions, notably at Euro 2012 when he had to heal rifts between the Barca and Real players.
"I am not the kind of coach who likes to shout and scream and force my ideas," del Bosque said. "I would rather convince the players. I am only bothered about my work and getting on with people."
At Euro 2012, he showed his determination to stick to his guns over team tactics, refusing to play a recognised striker despite plenty of criticism.
Whatever happens in Brazil, Del Bosque is likely to take the outcome philosophically.
"I feel very fortunate because I am only a coach," he said. "In my profession I have been able to achieve the unthinkable and I feel proud that, given my passion is football, I have won a World Cup and a European Championship." - Reuters.