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5 Spain players to watch at the World Cup

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PAUL LOGOTHETIS | April 8, 2014 08:34 AM EST | AP

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MADRID (AP) — Spain has a surplus of talented players at nearly every position, so picking the right team will likely be Spain coach Vicente del Bosque's biggest dilemma.

The defending champions have been afforded little time to experiment with tough matches against the Netherlands and Chile before facing Australia in Group B.

The team's core is aging but still capable, while an incoming crop of young talent will offer Del Bosque further options.

Here are five Spain players to watch:

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DIEGO COSTA

Diego Costa brings a new dynamic to the world champions, if coach Vicente del Bosque uses the Atletico Madrid striker correctly.

The Brazilian-born Costa has chosen to play for his adopted homeland of Spain, which has not possessed a player with his qualities since it began its trophy-winning ways at the 2008 European Championship.

Costa's gritty, physical play lends better to open space and long balls compared to Spain's short passing, possession style, with the quick-tempered striker terrorizing defenses when given space to run at them.

But the tight confines of Spain's play could limit Costa's impact unless Del Bosque embraces his qualities and character, which will be under duress from the home fans for choosing to play for Spain.

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IKER CASILLAS

Iker Casillas has been relegated to backup goalkeeper at Real Madrid, but the Spain captain has been stellar in that role by leading his club to the Copa del Rey final and deep into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

No player has made as many appearances for Spain as Casillas, who will be at his eighth major championship, including four World Cups.

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XAVI HERNANDEZ

At 34, this could surely be Xavi Hernandez's last World Cup.

Spain's key midfield navigator has spoken about his desire to lead the team in South America, and it is hard to imagine Xavi failing to be one of the difference-makers in the tournament, especially when motivated.

Much of Spain's play is directed off his boot, and much of Spain's success over the past six years can be attributed to his ability to set the tempo of a match.

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ANDRES INIESTA

Spain's wealth of midfield talent is a key difference-maker for the world champions, and Andres Iniesta is a key cog in that engine.

Iniesta, who scored in the 116th minute to give Spain its first World Cup title four years ago, has had a subdued season at Barcelona with occasional flashes of brilliance. But he seems to turn it on for Spain, when he normally proves to be a key player in unlocking defenses that tend to stack the area and stay behind the ball.

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SERGIO RAMOS

Only 27, Sergio Ramos has already made 115 appearances for the national team. And with Carles Puyol gone, the Real Madrid center back is the natural successor to lead the team from the back.

While teammate Gerard Pique may be more attuned to a "sweeper" role of carrying the ball forward, Ramos has been stellar in the center of defense where his speed, size and ability to read the game means he rarely gets beat.

While much of the talk of Spain's success surrounds the midfield, the defense has not conceded a goal in the knockout stages of the past two European Championships and the World Cup — a span of 10 games.

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Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP