Diego Costa: Settled and unleashed at the World Cup
The headlines naturally gravitated toward Cristiano Ronaldo in the aftermath of the incredible 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal on Friday, but there was enough evidence to suggest that the tournament will mark a defining new dawn in the controversial career of Diego Costa.
The Spain striker scored a technically sublime opening goal for his side, and showed another side to his game with his second, as his physical presence in the area proved too much for the Portuguese defence. Finally, after years of watching his character restrict his talent, Costa now appears to be a man at peace with himself and the game.
A few years ago he was a nomadic Brazilian striker struggling to find himself through a series of loan moves across Spain. Parent club Atletico Madrid remained patient with him, and he finally made an impression in a successful era for the club before switching to the English Premier League with Chelsea.
However, not one to find himself far from controversy, the situation turned sour at Stamford Bridge under the management of Antonio Conte, and the Italian disciplinarian struggled to build a relationship with the forward who had since switched allegiance to Spain. Falling out in January 2017, Costa was told the following summer that he was free to leave, by text message.
Harbouring a return to Atletico Madrid, the move was confirmed in September 2017, but a transfer restriction at the club from the Spanish capital meant he would not again wear the colours of Los Colchoneros again until January 2018. An enforced sabbatical from the game allowed Costa the time to refocus, and having turned 29 during his absence from the game, a newfound maturity would become apparent.
Of course, deciding on team colour has been a controversial issue for Costa in relation to club and country during his career. Making the transition from Brazil to Spain ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil made him a local target. While it clearly affected him at the time, he has now put the matter firmly behind him.
Likewise, his controversial and protracted departure from Chelsea had an impact on him, but he has found peace at the stunning new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, and he is slowly but surely returning to the form that elevated him to international prominence earlier in his career. Now, with club and country redemption achieved, it is time for Costa to star on the biggest stage of all.
And on Friday we saw a new Diego Costa. He showed all the elements and attributes that had initially launched his career, but now they are supported with the maturity and experience to make the most of his talent. With off-the-field matters settled for both club and country, the only focus now for the man from the Brazilian municipality of Lagarto are events on the field.
But while Costa's character and attitude has been criticised in the past, it will now prove to be his biggest strength, and his best attribute, in the latter stages of his career. A strong and determined figure, he has withstood pressures in his career that would have had a left a negative legacy on lesser figures. He has come through the difficult times, and while many will highlight him as the cause, it is a part of his character that makes him who he is.
Spain were rocked on the eve of the tournament by the departure of manager Julen Lopetegui. Hardly ideal preparation for one of the favourites, the squad have needed to regroup under Fernando Hierro. A player with a reputation for being a hard-tackling no-nonsense defensive figure, Costa will relate to his aggressive style of play, and the similarities extend beyond the physical resemblance.
Hierro will manage like he played and will enforce a tough mentality into his squad. It is a spirit that Costa will embrace, and Hierro will have a natural appreciation for what Costa can bring to this Spanish team. Ronaldo may have taken the spotlight on Friday, but this World Cup will see the very best of Diego Costa.