Spain boss Vicente del Bosque has a striking dilemma ahead of Friday’s Group B showdown with Netherlands in Salvador.
Diego Costa has declared himself “fully fit” for what is a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final, having seen his participation in the climax of Atletico Madrid’s season repeatedly interrupted by a hamstring problem.
However, although the Brazil-born forward has long been touted as the answer to Spain’s lengthy search for a reliable goalscorer, Costa could be left on the bench against the Dutch, given Del Bosque’s propensity for playing with a ‘false nine’ against a five-man defence.
Consequently, Cesc Fabregas, despite doubts over both his form and his Barcelona future, could once again start up front, just as he did during Euro 2012.
Del Bosque, though, also has the option of fielding either Euro 2008 final hero Fernando Torres or Spain’s all-time record goalscorer David Villa, both of whom have impressed in recent friendlies.
Spain also have a decision to make at the back. Gerard Pique has long been a first-choice central defender, but the indications are that the versatile Javi Martinez will be given the nod alongside Sergio Ramos at the heart of La Roja’s defence, with Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back.
As for Netherlands, Jonathan de Guzman’s hamstring problems look set to result in Jordy Clasie being paired with Nigel de Jong at the base of midfield.
Indeed, although the 2010 runners-up played 4-3-3 during their qualification campaign, coach Louis van Gaal has employed a more defensively minded 5-3-2 formation since losing dynamic midfielder Kevin Strootman to injury against France in March.
Consequently, Ron Vlaar is set to be joined by Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi in a three-man central defence, with Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind acting as wing-backs.