SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Even with a pair of goals himself, Diego Costa joined the chorus praising his higher-profile opponent’s hat trick in Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is Cristiano Ronaldo,” Costa said. “I wish I could be like him.”
But make no mistake about it: Costa knows he has the potential be right up there with Ronaldo fighting to be one of the stars of this World Cup in Russia.
Costa sent a strong message by scoring the first two goals for Spain against Portugal on Friday in Sochi, including with one of his trademark grinding runs past opponents. It was the type of performance he needed to boost his confidence after arriving for the World Cup doubted by fans and part of the media.
“I needed a good match like this,” Costa said. “Strikers always need to score goals. It was nice to do it in a World Cup match. It was important.”
Costa had scored only once since returning to the national team after being out for several months because he couldn’t play with Atletico Madrid following a FIFA transfer ban.
There were questions about whether Costa would be included in the World Cup list, as several other strikers were in the running, including Alvaro Morata. He made it, but then there were doubts about whether he would be a starter following the sudden coaching change that rocked the Spanish national team just before the tournament.
“My teammates always supported me, during the bad moments and the good moments,” Costa said. “I knew things would turn around. Hopefully it will continue like this.”
Spain goalkeeper David de Gea said the striker has already proven his worth with the national team.
“People had been criticizing him, talking about the lack of goals, then he shows up and does what he did (against Portugal),” De Gea said. “It’s football — one day you are worthless, the next you are very good. We have to move on.”
De Gea’s comments came just after he had to be consoled by Costa and other teammates following his mistake in Portugal’s second goal Friday.
“This is a family,” the 29-year-old Costa said. “The people may not think it is from the outside, but we are a family. We have to move on and show that we are a family.”
Costa used his strength to score Spain’s first goal in the opener, shoving defender Pepe out of the way and making several nice moves to clear defenders before firing a low shot into the net. Costa’s second came with an easy touch from close range after a setup by Sergio Busquets inside the area.
Costa failed to score as Spain was eliminated in the group stage four years ago in Brazil, where local fans booed him for choosing to play for Spain instead of the home team.
The Brazil-born Costa had already played two friendlies with the Brazilians when he requested to join Spain less than a year before the World Cup, prompting strong criticism by Brazil’s coach at the time, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who said he didn’t understand how someone would turn down the opportunity to play a World Cup in front of his home fans.
Costa is way past that episode, though, and he guarantees his focus is only on winning the World Cup with Spain.
“Hopefully I can keep scoring, but if they tell me that we can win the title with me not scoring again, I’d take that right away,” Costa said.
Spain’s next game is Wednesday against Group B leader Iran, which won its opener against Morocco.
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