Madrid: Spain will remain without Diego Costa at least until next year, and nobody is really worried about it. Thanks to a good run by its deep stock of strikers, La Roja is well-served in attack seven months out from the World Cup.
Alvaro Morata, Iago Aspas, and Rodrigo all have been in top form, helping to put aside any talk about Costa's absence.
Costa has not been called up by coach Julen Lopetegui since June because he has not played competitively since transferring from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid. The Spanish club is serving a transfer ban from FIFA and can't register any new players until January, so Costa has been practicing but can't play.
Lopetegui says he will not consider bringing back the veteran until he starts playing competitively again. That hasn't been cause for concern.
The other forwards have been getting the job done, leading Spain to a World Cup berth without having to go through the playoffs.
"We are very happy," Lopetegui tells local radio station CadenaSer. "Morata is a very good No. 9, as is Rodrigo, and Aspas, and Diego when he is with us." Costa's last game was in the qualifier at Macedonia, where he scored the winner in the 2-1 victory.
Since then, Spain has outscored opponents 15-0 in four games. Morata has three goals, including in the decisive 3-0 win against Italy in September. Aspas scored twice as Liechtenstein was routed 8-0 a few days later, and Rodrigo found the net when Albania was beaten 3-0 in October, which secured Spain another trip to the World Cup. The trio has also been thriving with their clubs.
Morata netted the winner against Manchester United last weekend, Rodrigo is coming off a run of three goals in Valencia's last three games, and Aspas netted three times in Celta Vigo's last two matches.
"We are very happy with all the strikers that we have and when it's time we will decide who will be the starter," Lopetegui says. "And the player who gets to start the first game of the World Cup may not be the one who plays in the second game, we will have to wait and see. But they will all get their chances."
Forwards Vitolo and Jose Callejon were also called up by Lopetegui for the friendlies against Costa Rica on Saturday and Russia on Tuesday. There are also other attacking options, including Marco Asensio, David Silva, Luis Alberto, Saul Niguez, Suso, and Isco.
"It's good that the coach has a lot of options," says Vitolo, who has been signed by Atletico Madrid, like Costa, but is playing on loan with Las Palmas until January.
Lopetegui previously also called up 36-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz and 35-year-old David Villa, who played in the last three World Cups and has been running out for New York City FC lately.
Costa ended qualifying with five goals, tied for the most for Spain along with Silva, Isco, and Morata. Vitolo was just behind, with four. Costa, Vitolo, and Morata each played in only five of the 10 qualifiers.
Lopetegui says he still counts on Costa, but is doing just fine without the striker for now. "We will take a look at him again beginning in January," Lopetegui says.