It was Wayne Rooney’s 43rd goal for his country and Diego Costa’s first, but their respective strikes for England and Spain were potentially crucial moments in their international careers. For Rooney, it was confirmation he is ready to lead an England team looking to him as the veteran of the side while Costa was finally able to get off the mark and start to put to bed any lingering doubts about his suitability for Spain.
Rooney’s not yet 30 but finds himself as far and away the most experienced player available to Roy Hodgson. The retirements of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and the decline of Rio Ferdinand, leave Rooney as the national team’s elder statesman. His next appearance will be his 100th for England and as he settles into life as captain, it’s crucial the goals follow too.
Goals are how strikers justify their place. It’s especially important for a player who divides opinion such as the Manchester United forward, who, despite his enviable goal record, still has his critics. After the winner against Estonia, Rooney is now six goals away from joining Sir Bobby Charlton as England’s record scorer and, if the half-dozen arrive while he wears the armband and guides the Three Lions to Euro 2016, the critics should finally be silenced.
Costa had to deal with his fair share of international condemnation too, and not only when ditching Brazil for Spain. One of Europe’s most lethal strikers – fifth in EuroFantasyLeague.com’s striker rankings last year and second this campaign – Costa had found international football much more of a challenge than at club level.
The Chelsea striker was more than half-way through his seventh Spain appearance before he finally scored, netting the third goal of the 4-0 win over Luxembourg. It was a game in which Costa went close with some half-chances and wasted one excellent opening, but perseverance paid off. With the duck broken, Costa should set about chasing down David Villa, Spain’s record scorer. At only 26, time is on his side.
It was a crucial goal for Spain too. It wasn’t clear how an out-and-out scorer such as Costa would fit in with Spain’s delicate, patient approach, and the answer thus far had been that he didn’t. But chance after chance was created against Luxembourg by La Roja’s collection of elegant midfielders – it was only a matter of time before Costa put one away. The standard of the opposition may be a factor but what matters most is that Costa scored at all.
Paco Alcacer’s prolific start to his Spain career was starting to threaten Costa’s place. A goal against Luxembourg doesn’t guarantee they’ll flow against tougher opposition but it does ease the pressure and stave off the potential usurpers for a while yet. As for Rooney, he has no challengers to his position. A decisive goal against Estonia, one of many crucial interventions in the skipper’s England career and likely not the last, made sure of that.