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Alcácer stepping up for Spain

Paco Alcácer's long-awaited breakthrough for Valencia CF was followed by a goal on his senior Spain debut. Richard Martin charts the 21-year-old's rise to prominence.

Paco Alcácer's rise ©Sportsfile

It can take the most promising of strikers an age to score their first international goal, but Paco Alcácer needed only 16 minutes.

The Valencia CF forward had barely turned 21 when he made his competitive debut for Spain against FYR Macedonia on 8 September. Yet he wasted no time in opening his account for his country, converting Juanfran's cross at the Estadi Ciutat de València to slot the second Spanish goal in a 5-1 UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group C win.

As he watched the ball roll back out of the net, Alcácer looked up to the heavens in memory of his late father, who died three years ago from a heart attack just hours after seeing his son score on his senior bow for Valencia in a Mestalla friendly with AS Roma.

"I remember my father every day and he will always be with me, so I dedicated this goal, which is so important to my career, to him," said Alcácer. The front man, who joined Valencia's academy aged 12, has said the tragedy made him "very strong mentally" – and he has never let sporting setbacks pull him down.

High hopes surrounded the attacking prospect after he had top-scored at the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Championship with six goals; indeed, he remains the leading striker in the history of the tournament with 14 including qualifying. Expectations were raised further after he led the line in Spain's triumphs at the UEFA European U19 Championships of 2011 and 2012.

Even so, his first foray into top-flight football was considered a disappointment as he registered a mere three goals in 20 Liga outings during a season's loan to Getafe CF in 2012/13. Alcácer, however, insists his spell with the Madrid club was a positive experience.

"Coming from youth football and going into a top-flight dressing room really helped me, both professionally and personally, because for me the most important thing is to play and play – I think about nothing else," he underlined.

Alcácer was then promoted to Valencia's first-team squad but the arrivals of Hélder Postiga and Dorlan Pabón in summer 2013, followed by those of Eduardo Vargas and Vinícius Araújo the next January, seemed ominous. However, only Alcácer – whose 17 top-flight starts last term yielded six goals – remains at the club.

The 21-year-old's blistering start to this season now demonstrates why he made the cut – he has scored four times and provided four assists in seven games to help still-unbeaten Valencia to second in the Liga.

Alcácer enjoys his debut Spain goal
Alcácer enjoys his debut Spain goal©Getty Images

His exploits promptly merited a recall to the Spain squad for this week's European Qualifiers against Slovakia and Luxembourg, and with Fernando Torres, Roberto Soldado and Álvaro Negredo presently out of the picture and David Villa retired from international duty, only Diego Costa stands in Alcácer's way of being Spain's leading man.

Although Costa heads the Premier League scoring chart with nine goals for Chelsea FC, he has not yet repeated his club form for his adopted country, failing to net in five matches for La Roja. By contrast Alcácer, first capped as a substitute in the 4 September friendly against France, is already off the mark and is also five years younger than Costa.

So the Group C trips to Slovakia and Luxembourg, on Thursday and Sunday, arguably double up as an audition for the striker's spot. With Spain's two forwards in clinical form, both opposing defences could face a long night when Costa and Alcácer come to town.