MADRID (AP) — Despite his troubles at Chelsea, forward Juan Mata was recalled by Spain on Friday for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers when the champions will look to seal their place in the 2014 tournament.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque dropped Mata from the previous qualifier after the playmaker fell out of favor with returning Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. Mata, however, impressed in the English team's 4-0 rout at Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League on Tuesday, hitting the woodwork with a shot and coming close to setting up two goals.
Spain hosts Belarus next Friday on the island of Mallorca and Georgia four days later in Albacete. Spain leads Europe Group I, level with France on points but with an extra game in hand. While Mata will likely still be a substitute for Spain, Del Bosque has seen his choice at striker limited to David Villa, Alvaro Negredo, or converted midfielder Cesc Fabregas after Fernando Torres injured his knee and the Spanish federation failed to give Diego Costa his international debut due to a paperwork delay.
Diego Costa was born in Brazil and became a Spanish citizen this year after moving to the country in 2007. "He has positive feelings for a country he has integrated well with and he wants to play here," Del Bosque said about Diego Costa after announcing his 23-man squad.
Diego Costa has scored eight goals in seven games to keep Atletico Madrid atop the Spanish league with Barcelona. And with teammate Villa not finding the net nearly as often and Torres notorious for his dips in form, Del Bosque appears set on giving his attack a massive makeover before the competition's final phase in Brazil next summer.
Del Bosque said the bureaucratic hang-up was his fault for not having called up Diego Costa earlier. The former Real Madrid manager said he had spoken to Diego Costa personally and they both shared the desire that he play for Spain.
Del Bosque said in private Diego Costa sheds his sometimes abrasive on-pitch attitude. "We had a pleasant conversation with a very nice, polite young man who is completely different from the aggressive Diego Costa we see in games," he said. "We were all very comfortable in the meeting. There was no commitment, but he would like to come."
However, Del Bosque was careful to stress that "until he plays for the team he is still free to choose" and could end up playing for Brazil. The Spanish football federation said in a statement on Thursday that world football's governing body had asked it to provide documentation certifying that Diego Costa had not played for Brazil before. The Spanish federation said it had in turn asked the Brazilian federation for said proof.
Xabi Alonso, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, and Santi Cazorla were also left off as they recover from injury. Del Bosque called up 21-year-old Sevilla defender Alberto Moreno for the first time to fill in for Alba at left back.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Victor Valdes (Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Defenders: Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Juanfran Torres (Atletico Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Ignacio Monreal (Arsenal), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Mario Suarez (Atletico Madrid), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Francisco "Isco" Alarcon (Real Madrid), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)
Forwards: Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Jesus Navas (Manchester City), Juan Mata (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City), David Villa (Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Negredo (Manchester City)