While Spainai??i??s Euro 2012 campaign saw them try to get by without a steady occupant of the center-forward position, World Cup 2014 will see Vincente Del Bosque choose between two of Europeai??i??s most in-form center forwards. That decision will play a significant role in La Roja’s quest for back-to-back World Cup victories.

Spain, once again, are looking to do what no other international side has done. Winning World Cup 2014 in Brazil would mark the first time an international side has won their continentai??i??s premier international tournament and the World Cup, four times in succession.

Vincente Del Bosque has quite a few dilemmas with his Spain squad, but the unexpected dilemma at center forward is one for which he is grateful.

Vincente Del Bosque has quite a few dilemmas with his Spain squad, but the unexpected dilemma at center-forward is one for which he is grateful.

However, the quality of competition in this World Cup appears to be superior to that of Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012. Along with Spain, Brazil, Germany and an Argentina side that has finally been built around Messi, all look like legitimate contenders. Beyond them, sides like Belgium (not a dark horse), Italy, Portugal, Chile (this authorai??i??s dark horse side), France and Colombia are all capable of ending one of the favorites’ run to the World Cup trophy.

Therefore, Vincente Del Bosque has less of a margin for error when it comes to his squad selection. While there is quite a selection headache in midfield, Del Bosque also has to figure out who, between Diego Costa and Alvaro Negredo, represent the best fit for this side.

Diego Costa: Efficient Goalscoring and a Valuable Defender

Diego Costa has been a revelation playing for Atletico Madrid this season. Playing in Atleticoai??i??s counterattacking, center-overloading 4-4-2, Costa has scored 19 goals in 17 La Liga appearances. While he may not have the shooting ability that Negredo has, his ability to get into prime positions to score is one of the best in Europe. This ability has allowed him to convert a fantastic 33.3% of his shots into goals. With the clear quality of Spain when in possession of the ball, it may benefit them the most to have a center-forward who excels at getting himself into goal-scoring positions.

Diego Costa lives to shoot from good positions to score. From Squawka, as are all stats in the piece.

Diego Costa lives to shoot from good positions to score. (source: Squawka)

Costaai??i??s love of playing short passes to his teammates and then running in behind defenders could give Spain an element of directness and goal-scoring potential they have not enjoyed since David Villaai??i??s performance at World Cup 2010. His willingness to dribble at defenders would also help Spain in scoring goals.

However, Costa is not an efficient dribbler. He only has a 33% success rate when he takes a defender on with a dribble in La Liga. Vincente Del Bosque, who has Spain use possession to both attack and defend against their opponents, may not approve of Costaai??i??s penchant for dribbling at defenders. Ai??Also, Del Bosque may not wish to unbalance the side by having another dribbler in addition to Andres Iniesta, who has a 64% success rate when he takes on defenders in La Liga.

Costa provides defensive value unlike most, if not all center forwards. However, his lack of efficiency with respect to dribbling may cost him a place in Spain's XI.

Costa provides defensive value unlike most, if not all center forwards. However, his lack of efficiency with respect to dribbling may cost him a place in Spain’s XI. (source: Squawka)

Where Costa may prove himself a cut above the competition is his defensive contribution. For Atletico, Costa is asked to drop into the midfield, clogging the center of the pitch, and looking to win possession. Though a small sample, Costa impresses with 12/19 successful tackles (63%). While this may not be as vital against the weaker teams in this yearai??i??s World Cup, his defensive contribution may prove vital against the best teams. It would certainly be beneficial if Del Bosque stays loyal to the old guard (something he is wont to do) and plays Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez who (with age, injury, and potential fatigue) are not nearly as mobile as they once were. Also, Costaai??i??s defensive work, once the ball is lost, could go a long way to mucking up the opponentai??i??s ability to hit Spain in transition. If teams have a lowered ability to hit Spain on the break, their odds of winning fall precipitously, as the thought of a team successfully playing a possession game against La Roja is unfathomable.

Alvaro Negredo: Spain’s Utility Man At Center Forward

Alvaro Negredo has had a fantastic debut season for Manchester City. He has played well either as a strike partner to Sergio Aguero or as a lone center forward. He is not wasteful with his shooting, converting 20% of his shots into goals, though he is nowhere close to Diego Costa with respect to shot efficiency. Negredo has shown a willingness to drift into the space, be it in wide areas or central ones. He can come deep and involve himself in the build-up play. He can play on the shoulder of the last defender and look to run in behind the defense. He has the ability to create chances by passing or dribbling at defenders. He may not be one of the worldai??i??s best at any one particular center forward skill, but his versatility allows him to fit in with a variety of tactics and opponents.

Alvaro Negredo operates in a multitude of areas and roles throughout the course of any particular match when playing for Manchester City.

Alvaro Negredo operates in a multitude of areas and roles throughout the course of any particular match when playing for Manchester City. (source: Squawka)

That versatility allows Negredo to not disrupt the Spanish side. He looks natural in any role, allowing Vincente Del Bosque to fill the other outfield position without having to worry about rendering his center forward inept. Compare that to Diego Costa, who may need to be handcuffed by Del Bosque with respect to his penchant for taking people off the dribble.

Negredoai??i??s most valuable trait may be his ability in the air. While Diego Costa has only won 16/86 headed duels (19%) in La Liga, Negredo has won 39/111 (35%) in the English Premier League. Clearly, Negredo is the better candidate to play the role of target man. That ability could be quite valuable to Spain.

Alvaro Negredo's aerial ability could be the factor that leads to Del Bosque picking him over Diego Costa

Alvaro Negredo’s aerial ability could be the factor that leads to Del Bosque picking him over Diego Costa. (source: Squawka)

In the Confederations Cup Final, Spain struggled to deal with the pressing and intensity of Brazil. They could have done with a target man up front in that match, especially one who could and world drift wide. This would have been particularly advantageous as winning an aerial duel against Dani Alves or Marcelo is a much easier task than winning one against David Luiz or Thiago Silva (or one would be more likely to find unmarked space in those wide areas with those particular fullbacks). The ability to play that ball over the top successfully either dissuades the opponent from pressing, or it makes their pressing ineffective and detrimental to the opponent, due to the physical toll it takes.

For Spain, having another avenue to cope with pressing sides may be critical. With sides like Brazil and Chile having success against Spain through pressing, more sides may look at that tactic as the way to combat the defending champions. While this may not be an issue in their group, outside of Chile, in the knockout round, more sides will be willing to press Spain. Since it is win-or-go-home, sides worry less about conserving their energy for future matches. What good does it do if you have already been sent home? So from the first knockout round on, teams, who already considered themselves massive underdogs against La Roja, may employ a high intensity pressing game as their ai???David strategy.ai??? From that perspective, Negredo may be the ideal option for Spain in those matches. And given his versatility, he still provides value against sides that do not try to press or give up on their pressing strategy in the middle of the match.

Conclusion

Neither of these players is clearly superior to the other in all situations. If there is a need for an aerial presence, and a player who fill fit into the side easier, then Alvaro Negredo is the best choice. If there is the need for a player who is an efficient goal scorer, or if Spain need to adeptly defend from the front, then Diego Costa should be the one starting. Come World Cup 2014, Del Bosqueai??i??s choice of center-forward for any given match will probably do more with the other outfield players available to him and the opponent. Getting that selection right, along with being able to drop some of the old guard for younger, better players, will be Vincente Del Bosqueai??i??s most important role in Spainai??i??s quest for a second World Cup win.

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