David Villa marked his last appearance for Spain much like most of his previous ones — with a goal.
Villa opened the scoring Monday with his record 59th goal as the 2010 World Cup champions beat Australia 3-0 to avoid finishing last in Group B.
The striker marked his lone appearance in Brazil by deftly guiding Juanfran Torres’ cross home with the inside of his right heel after 36 minutes.
Villa was overcome by emotion after being replaced in the 57th, burying his head in his hands. Not to shield his face from the blazing afternoon sun, but to reflect on an international career in which he played a key role in Spain’s consecutive European Championship victories and maiden World Cup triumph.
“I thought about everything (the team has) given me, every day I had the luck and privilege to be here,” Villa said. “To play for the Spanish team, from the very first day, has always been a great pleasure.”
Villa, 32, has been an instrumental figure in Spain’s rise since helping the country win Euro 2008, proving to be a versatile striker with the ability to slide into Spain’s possession-based, combination football with ease.
Villa surpassed Raul Gonzalez’s former mark of 44 goals for Spain to claim the record mark, which he began chipping away at with his debut in 2005.
“It would be an honor for me to be surpassed by someone because I will always be a part of the story of this team,” Villa said. “Obviously it would be great for the team if another or others score more goals for the team.”
Spain’s veterans have been criticized for hanging on for one tournament too long — a shocking 5-1 loss to the Netherlands followed by a 2-0 defeat to Chile left the reigning champions without a chance of advancing to the knockout stages.
The international futures of captain Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso have all been under question, with Alonso saying Monday he would take the summer to consider his future.
While Fernando Torres also scored on Monday, Spain is yet to find a player like Villa to fit into its system with Diego Costa failing to make an impact in Brazil.
Villa suggested he would return if asked to by coach Vicente del Bosque, saying he wanted to play for Spain his “whole life.”
“I’ve always said I’d love to play for the Spanish team until I turn 55. But I’m conscious that’s impossible,” said the former Barcelona and Valencia forward, who helped guide Atletico Madrid to its first Spanish league title in 18 years this season.
“After the World Cup I decided to go to the MLS and I won’t be playing for some months so it was going to be difficult to play here. After six months let’s see how it goes and maybe the coach needs me. But you have to be realistic about it.”
Del Bosque felt pangs of regret over replacing Villa with Juan Mata in the second half, with Villa also registering some anger at being replaced so early.
“He said it was his last game and I didn’t know,” Del Bosque said. “No doubt he would be upset.”