With talismanic striker David Villa out with a long-term injury, Fernando Torres severely out of sorts and Alvaro Negredo unavailable due to a knock, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque must have been wondering just who to deploy up front in 29 February’s friendly against Venezuela. And though many eyes turned to a man whose usual role with La Selección has been that of an impact sub, Fernando Llorente, public opinion was strongly behind a player who had not donned the red shirt for five long years.
Roberto Soldado made his debut for La Roja back in 2007 under then boss Luis Aragones. However, he has been in the international wilderness since missing the cut for UEFA EURO 2008, this despite netting goals aplenty for Osasuna, Getafe and current club Valencia. Fortunately for the player, Del Bosque moved to remedy that situation yesterday, though Soldado did spend the first half against Venezuela warming the bench.
By the interval, the reigning world and European champions were already 2-0 ahead thanks to goals from Andres Iniesta and David Silva, yet they still showed signs of lacking a ‘delantero puro’ (out-and-out striker). All that changed within three minutes of Soldado’s half-time introduction, with the Valencia No9 seizing on uncertainty in the Vinotinto backline to restart an attack that ended with him diverting home from close range.
Five minutes later the 26-year-old repeated the feat with another neat first-time finish, before going on to round off a 5-0 win with his third of the night late on. “It’s a dream to make my national-team return like this,” said Soldado after the game, the matchball tucked under his arm.
“The circumstances favoured me, because the game really opened up in the second half. But I’m still annoyed at that penalty which I should have put away,” he added with typical modesty, in reference to the spot-kick he earned himself and which also resulted in a red card for Venezuela’s Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta.
Back in November 2011, FIFA.com interviewed Soldado, who at the time underlined he had not lost hope of returning to the national set-up. Now, having done so in emphatic style, the former Real Madrid youth product is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “This hat-trick isn’t going to decide if I go to the EURO or not, it’s all about how I perform over the next three months,” said the player, who with 12 La Liga goals is the second-highest Spanish scorer in the country’s top flight, one goal behind Llorente.
“Making the squad for the EURO is every player’s dream,” he continued in the aforementioned interview with FIFA.com. “First and foremost I’m going to work hard to help my club side and hopefully I’ll get the added reward [of making the EURO cut].”
That objective must be a good deal closer after Wednesday’s display, though coach Del Bosque kept his cards close to his chest in the post-match press conference: “I have to give due credit to Roberto Soldado because he did what a centre-forward needs to do: finish. He turned the work done by Jordi Alba, [Santi] Cazorla and [Alvaro] Arbeloa, among others, into goals.
“But that shouldn’t take anything away from the contribution that others before him have made, nor what they can continue to offer La Selección,” he continued, perhaps with a nod towards the likes of Villa and Torres. “Soldado did a very good job but there’s still two and a half months of the season to go, during which we’ll analyse and evaluate all our options. One thing’s for sure: we’ll take the best and most deserving players to the EURO.”
That said, there are other weighty voices that already feel Soldado has done enough to merit his place on the trip to Poland/Ukraine. “One ticket to the EURO,” was the message Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso, a member of the victorious squads at EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, scribbled on the matchball after the game in Malaga. In just a few short months, we shall see if he was right.