With one sumptuous swing of his right foot against Liechtenstein on Friday, David Villa moved to within one goal of Raul’s all-time goalscoring record for Spain.
Villa’s 25-yard strike in the 4-0 rout was his 43rd in Spain’s colours and, having already inspired his country to victory at Euro 2008 and the World Cup, a goal in the friendly with Argentina on Tuesday will further strengthen his claim to the mantle of Spain’s greatest ever striker.
The Barcelona new boy could even have drawn level with Raul in Vaduz after hitting the crossbar in the last minute, but he says he is not preoccupied by his pursuit of the record.
“It will come,” said Villa. “It’s a shame (not to score) because it was the final minutes but the goals will arrive. I hope that I stay in the national team for many years.”
Spain’s thrashing of Liechtenstein was also an important game for Villa’s strike partner Fernando Torres, who went some way towards banishing memories of his goalless turn at the World Cup with a clinically taken brace.
Medical staff at Liverpool had claimed Torres will need another month to recover full fitness after an adductor muscle injury, and he was not the only striker to make a mockery of medical forecasts in Friday’s matches.
Jermain Defoe was scheduled to have a groin operation last week but Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp told him to postpone the procedure, and he responded by smashing a hat-trick in England’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria.
Defoe netted one of the paltry two goals that England managed to score in South Africa and his strike partner Wayne Rooney received more criticism than most for an uncharacteristically subdued showing in the tournament.
The Manchester United forward looked close to his best against Bulgaria though, setting up two of Defoe’s goals and a first international strike for Adam Johnson, and coach Fabio Capello revealed that the secret was a subtle change in tactics.
“I played Rooney in a position different than usual. He did very well. I spoke with him before the game,” said Capello.
“He had to stay just in front of the two central midfielders and from this position to go forward and to be free.”
Holland’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar emulated Defoe’s exploits with a triple in his side’s 5-0 demolition of San Marino.
The former Ajax goal machine recently joined German side Schalke in a 14 million euros move and he is desperate to resurrect his career after underwhelming spells at Real Madrid and AC Milan.
Huntelaar’s countryman Ruud van Nistelrooy is another striker looking to relaunch his career in Germany and the Hamburg frontman celebrated his return to the international scene with an injury-time strike against San Marino.
It was his 34th goal in Holland’s colours, taking him ahead of the legendary Johan Cruyff (33) and to within six of Patrick Kluivert’s all-time national record.
With first-team football at Hamburg guaranteed and a full qualifying campaign ahead of him, van Nistelrooy can realistically hope to make significant inroads on Kluivert’s mark.
Miroslav Klose, 32 and two years van Nistelrooy’s junior, is also plotting to bring the curtain down on his goalscoring career in record-breaking style.
The Germany striker became the second highest scorer in World Cup finals history in South Africa and, prior to claiming his 53rd international goal in Germany’s 1-0 win in Brussels on Friday, he said he intends to lead his country’s challenge at the next World Cup, in 2014.
Antonio Cassano was another veteran marksman on target as Italy defeated Estonia 2-1.
“He’s an example for anyone who wants to play for the national team,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli of the Sampdoria forward whose last Italy goal was at Euro 2004 and had been in international exile for two years.
“He fought to get back in the squad and this week he’s shown how much the shirt means to him.”
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