BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Diego Costa became a one-man wrecking crew to lead Atletico Madrid to a 3-0 home win over Valencia on Sunday, scoring two second-half goals and earning a pair of penalties to ensure Diego Simeone's side retained its share of the Spanish league lead with Barcelona.
The Brazilian-born striker's brace drew him level with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo as the league's leading scorers with 17 goals apiece through 16 rounds.
"The important thing is to help the team win, not the goals," Diego Costa said.
After a first half dominated by defense, Atletico pressed Valencia into its area and Diego Costa did the rest. He used a burst of speed capped with a stinging strike to beat goalkeeper Diego Alves on a counterattack for the 59th-minute opener.
Raul Garcia went on in the 61st for David Villa to reinforce Atletico's midfield and two minutes later fired in a loose ball.
Another charge into the area earned Diego Costa his first of two penalties when Victor Ruiz brought him down, only for Diego Alves to save his spot kick in the 74th.
But Diego Costa again forced defender Antonio Barragan to foul him as he penetrated the box. This time he blasted the ball over the goalie in the 81st, sealing Atletico's eighth win in as many league games at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
"We just go forward game by game," Diego Costa said. "We know that it will be very tough and the league is long, but we will keep fighting to keep this going."
Atletico's title challenge gains strength with each passing round as it keeps pace with defending champion Barcelona and has crosstown Real Madrid trailing by five points. It has allowed a league-low nine goals and has found its scorer in Diego Costa, helped by Villa and Garcia, who have combined for another 15 goals in league play.
"I always want more," Simeone said. "I don't want my team to be passive. I want the team to always push and never be satisfied. It is very tough to keep up with Barcelona, its numbers are stratospheric."