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The likes of Iker Casillas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta have all endured difficulties at club level this season but their coach is adamant that they deserve their places in Brazil

By Mark Doyle in Salvador

Vicente del Bosque insists that he has picked his Spain squad on merit rather than reputation as his team bid to get their World Cup defence off to a winning start against Netherlands on Friday.

Del-Bosque's 23-man selection only includes nine players under the age of 27, while his starting XI will likely include 30-year-olds Iker Casillas and Andres Iniesta, 32-year-old Xabi Alonso and 34-year-old Xavi.

Casillas played second fiddle to Diego Lopez in La Liga last season, while Iniesta and Xavi both endured disappointing campaigns for Barcelona, but Del Bosque remains adamant that they deserve their places.

"All of the players have their own history with the national team," he told reporters. "They’re playing very well. They’re playing for their clubs. We can’t say that this is a squad of veterans.

"We have young players and only a few players 30 or over. We’re not afraid of anyone or anything. We’re at our best.

"These players have been extraordinary in the past but they’re not here for what they’ve done in the past. They’re here for what I believe they’ll do in this tournament."

Spain are bidding to become the first national team in history to win four consecutive major international tournaments but the announcement of Cesc Fabregas's move to Chelsea on Thursday has overshadowed their preparation.

Del Bosque, however, is confident that the transfer will not prove a distraction for the player or his squad.

"There’s no interference," he insisted. "These are decisions that are always taken over the summer. It will not affect us at all. Either our football or our squad."

The Spain boss also had kind words for Netherlands, La Roja's opponents in the 2010 final, warning his squad that Louis van Gaal's men will present a stern test.

"It’s true that Netherlands have changed a lot over the last few years," he remarked. "We’ve done the opposite more or less. We have a very stable squad.

"But for Netherlands, there is a very good manager at the helm now who coached in Spain. He’s maintained the essence of Dutch football and I hold him in the highest esteem."

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