Having been on the cusp of history for a short while now, David Villa finally tied Raul as Spain’s all-time leading marksman last night. The 28-year-old’s first-half penalty set La Roja en route to a hard-fought 3-2 win in Scotland in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, and took him on to 44 goals from 69 appearances for his country.
Raul, who managed his return from 102 internationals, scored his last goal for Spain against Tunisia at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, laying a marker that stood unmatched for over four years.
“It would be great to reach that landmark while helping the national team win major trophies and so that, in a few years’ time, I can see my name on one of those lists when some youngster is trying to overtake me,” Villa told FIFA.com way back in early 2009. And having done exactly that, with his prolificacy a vital feature of Spain’s triumph at South Africa 2010, the Asturias-born player is showing no signs of easing up just yet.
A goal-laden tale
It all started under previous Spain coach Luis Aragones, who handed Villa his senior debut with La Selección on 9 February 2005 in a 5-0 victory over San Marino in qualifying for Germany 2006. But having failed to get on the score-sheet in that encounter in the Andalusian city of Almeria, El Guaje would have to wait until 16 November 2005 and his fourth appearance to get off the mark.
After remaining on the bench throughout Spain’s 5-1 first-leg triumph over Slovakia in the pair’s Germany 2006 qualifying play-off, Villa joined the fray in place of Fernando Torres in the 59th minute of the second leg and within 11 minutes had struck the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Once at Germany 2006, the then Valencia hitman continued in a similar vein, grabbing a brace in a 4-0 group victory over Ukraine and scoring Spain’s opener from the penalty spot in a heart-breaking 3-1 defeat by France in the Round of 16.
As previously mentioned, it was at this tournament that Raul scored his last goal for his country. His final appearance would come some months later, in 6 September 2006’s 3-2 EURO 2008 qualifying reverse in Northern Ireland, with neither Aragones or his successor Vicente del Bosque calling on the former Merengue idol since then.
Raul’s departure from the national-team picture freed up his iconic No7 jersey and Villa swiftly proved a worthy recipient, firing his first hat-trick for La Roja in the 4-1 rout of Russia at EURO 2008. His injury-time winner in Spain’s second group game against Sweden was his fourth and final goal of the tournament, enough to finish top scorer in his country’s first major conquest since 1964, though the success was tinged with personal disappointment after missing the final against Germany through injury.
Come South Africa 2010, however, and the Final did not elude him. Villa was a talismanic figure for the eventual world champions, scoring both goals in the 2-0 group victory over Honduras and the opener in the 2-1 win over Chile, feats he followed up with crucial strikes in the 1-0 defeats of Portugal and Paraguay in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively. Finishing the competition on five goals, Villa ended level with fellow adidas Golden Boot hopefuls Thomas Muller, Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder in a race the young German won thanks to his superior number of assists.
Unusually for such a prolific marksman, prior to the Scotland encounter Villa had only found the net once for his country since his clincher against La Albirroja. Indeed, despite being among the goals with Barcelona, taking his current La Liga tally to 140 and continuing his bid for a first Pichichi trophy (awarded to the division's top scorer), with the national team Villa hit the woodwork no fewer than four times since his 43rd goal for La Roja in 3 September's 4-0 EURO 2012 qualifying win in Liechtenstein. Which meant El Guaje could breathe a sigh of relief when number 44 finally came against the Scots at Hampden Park, and in the 44th minute no less!
“I’m very happy, especially because it helped us win the game,” said Villa post-match. “I knew the goal would come, but my next objective isn’t scoring number 45 - I want to score loads more than that because I want to stay in the national squad for many more years, so I’m not getting carried away.”
And with that in mind, who knows just how high Villa will set the bar for future generations of Spanish goal-getters?