MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil (AP) — To understand just how precious a team's top forward is, simply look at the coaches' frowns when one is hobbling or grimacing during World Cup preparations.
Or the relief when an injury doesn't appear to be as bad as feared.
So when Romelu Lukaku was performing balancing drills on his right ankle without any negative effect on Wednesday, Belgium could take a sigh of relief — its top striker looked fully fit again.
The same goes for defending champion Spain, which now has good hope of recovering Diego Costa for its hotly anticipated rematch of the 2010 final against the Netherlands on Friday.
"He's ready," said Spain midfielder and Atletico Madrid teammate Koke. "He looks 100 percent to me."
Costa was the perfect proof of the lengths teams will go to in order to have their star striker available for big games. Hobbling on one leg with bad hamstring, Costa tried an experimental cure with horse placenta to get ready for last month's Champions League final against Real Madrid.
It didn't work. Despite Atletico gambling on Costa's fitness and playing him from the start, the striker had to limp off after just nine minutes. Now, after resting, all of Spain hopes he will be fit to score for his country.
Uruguay is in a similar situation. With Luis Suarez in the lineup, Brazil's neighbor looks like a contender. Without him, the team suddenly becomes an underdog in a group which includes Italy and England.
After a standout season with Liverpool that earned him player-of-the-year honors in the Premier League, Suarez needed arthroscopic surgery on his knee on May 22 — suddenly putting his World Cup in doubt. The mercurial forward still worked out separately when his teammates played a training match on Tuesday, an ominous sign ahead of Saturday's opener against Costa Rica.
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