Adios, Villa - Spain's greatest ever striker

COMMENT: La Roja's all-time record goalscorer has called time on his international career, making his last appearance on Monday, and his nation may never see another like him
By Paul Macdonald in Brazil

Adios, El Guaje. The finest centre-forward Spain has ever produced has bid an emotional farewell.

David Villa's first-half flick helped defeat Australia in his side's meaningless Group B closer, and it was typical Villa; instinctive, skilful, clinical. But it will be his 59th and last goal for his country, and the realisation brought an outpouring of emotion from a much-loved and respected footballer.

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He departed the pitch in tears upon his substitution in the 60th minute. He made his decision to retire from Spain duty before the World Cup began. "Given my age, my level of performance, and everything I have given the team, it is time," he announced. But often it's not until the day arrives that a retrospective can begin.

Eight years of achievement spearheading not just Spain's finest side, but perhaps the greatest international team we'll ever see, came into sharp focus. He'd broken records with these players, both personally and collectively, and now the end is here.

Raul had ruled the roost for Spain for over a decade. But despite his notable talent, success didn't follow for a unit that perennially underachieved. In 2006, Luis Aragones made a difficult decision. Villa ensured that it was the decision that kick-started the golden generation. Raul is the only Spanish striker who comes close to Villa in terms of quality. But their careers for La Roja are incomparable - Villa simply made the difference.

His record at international level is sensational: 59 goals in 97 appearances makes him Spain's all-time record scorer, a total that others will struggle to break. But it wasn't just the volume of goals, it was the occasions in which he scored them.

Four strikes at Euro 2008 made him top scorer as he blasted through the group stages, and only injury denied him from adding more. At World Cup 2010, when sides sat deep to stifle Spain and deny them space to express themselves, Villa was decisive, defeating Honduras, Chile, Portugal and Paraguay with goals of varying skill and style.

After the horrific leg break while playing for Barcelona denied him yet more accolades at Euro 2012, he never quite had the same dynamism as before. But he adapted his game to such a degree that he played a pivotal role in Atletico Madrid's title triumph this season. He did enough to convince Vicente Del Bosque that he still had a part to play at this tournament, even at the age of 32.

Indeed, had Villa been given any kind of opportunity against Netherlands and Chile, who knows, things might have been different. The Diego Costa experiment has failed and Fernando Torres is not the threat he once was. Villa is a tournament player. He has lasted the course and distance. Perhaps he deserved another run.

Scoring at a third successive World Cup proved that.

His career does not end here, of course. A loan spell in Australia with Melbourne City comes before a lucrative move to New York City FC, where Villa will undoubtedly prove his quality for years to come yet.

This end of sorts, however, is indeed representative of an overall transition for Spain. From unbreakable, at times touching perfection, now beaten, and their very approach to the game being brought into scrutiny.

Villa is unlikely to be the only experienced head to leave the team behind. Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Iker Casillas may all follow suit. It will be a new Spain, a rebooted version, which takes the nation forward. But they will struggle to find another player quite like David Villa.