LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Diego Costa’s hamstring withstood 74 minutes on a hot and humid afternoon just six days before Spain opens the defense of its World Cup title. He showed bursts of speed, jostled with defenders and drew a penalty when he was the knocked to the ground by the goalkeeper.
On Sunday, he and his teammates will board a flight to Brazil, knowing that his performance all but alleviates La Roja’s biggest concern of the last few weeks.
Spain beat El Salvador 2-0 in a final tuneup Saturday, with Costa showing no hitch in his step from the strained right hamstring that limited him to nine minutes in the Champions League final May 24.
“It was good to get rid of the fear I had,” Costa said through an interpreter. “I am not 100 percent, but about the injury, it is clear that I am very well, that I am better. So this week I must work hard.”
David Villa scored in the 60th and 88th minutes amid numerous near-misses for the Spaniards, who will face the Netherlands on Friday in a Group B opener — a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.
Facing an overmatched El Salvador squad being rebuilt after a match-fixing scandal, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was mostly concerned about form and fitness. The mid-80s temperature was as much of a test as the opponent, with the Spaniards controlling 80 percent of the possession and goalkeepers Iker Casillas and David de Gea splitting a shutout without either having to make a save.
Costa, who missed Spain’s friendly against Bolivia on May 30, was therefore front and center, and not just because he was stationed in his customary spot at the top of the attack. The game was less than five minutes old when he got behind the defense to chase down Xabi Alonso’s long ball and was taken down by Henry Hernandez near the top of the box.
The penalty was given, but Cesc Fabregas failed to take advantage when his spot kick sailed over the crossbar.
Costa went on to have several more of his team’s scoring chances. None was better than his point-blank header that was somehow saved by the outstretched right hand of the leaping Hernandez in the second half.
Costa nearly played a part in Villa’s first goal in the 60th minute. When Alonso crossed to Sergio Ramos, Hernandez committed himself to the ball and left the net open. Ramos headed the ball back to the middle, and Costa swung his right leg high for a sure-fire strike — but Villa barely got there first and headed it in.
Costa was subbed for Xavi Hernandez in the 74th minute. With the leg looking fine, the final step is to get back in full game shape.
“He did some good things,” del Bosque said. “But obviously he hadn’t played in a couple weeks, so he’s regaining his fitness. But overall, I thought he did well.”
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