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Spain looks to soothe bruised Barcelona egos

AP - Sports

MADRID (AP) -- While Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid's international players recover from their bruising Champions League final, Spain must begin soothing the bruised egos of its Barcelona players following the club's worst season in six years.

Real and Madrid players were given the week to recover from Saturday's final, won 4-1 by Real. Meanwhile, the seven Barcelona players selected to the squad that will likely go to the World Cup started preparing Monday for Spain's warmup game against Bolivia.

Spain is vying to become the first nation to win four straight major international events after its World Cup win in South Africa was sandwiched between European Championship victories.

Spain heads to Brazil with its Barcelona players in an uncertain state. Barcelona failed to win a major trophy for the first time since 2007-08. An aging squad bothered by off-field problems let the Spanish league title slip from its grasp.

Barcelona could have secured its fifth title in six seasons, but after a good start to the season, the team lost steam under the weight of injuries, erratic form and lack of discipline.

Barcelona limped to the finish with three draws over its last three games when a single victory would likely have seen it retain its title. In its season-ending 1-1 draw against Atletico it surrendered the title to Atletico, with the home players jeered off the Camp Nou field.

''I feel so bad, I just feel disappointment and disillusionment,'' midfielder Andres Iniesta said. ''The season has ended and so have a lot of things.''

Iniesta, who scored the extra-time winner in Spain's 1-0 World Cup final win over the Netherlands in 2010 had a sub-par season, much like teammate Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez. Xavi Hernandez. A 34-year-old midfielder, was bothered by injuries for much of the season, as was fullback Jordi Alba. Defender Carles Puyol has retired.

Sergio Busquets also left the Atletico draw to injury, leaving fundamental pieces of Spain's possession-based, combination game in question.

''The fundamental thing will be a good preparation, and that's why we are here now,'' said Del Bosque, who tried to reassure fans by pointing to Spain's depth. ''At some positions we have two or, even, three options so we should not be worried, there are many alternatives.''

Barcelona's players also went into Euro 2008 in poor form after a second straight season without a trophy. But they recovered to help Spain end a 44-year major trophy drought.

With many of these players aging, however, Spain heads to Brazil in the midst of transition.

Xavi's health remains a question, and Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara is unable to fill in because of injury. Koke remains a good bet to fill that playmaking role, but the Atletico midfielder will certainly arrive at Spain's camp fatigued following a long season, like those players from Madrid.

Striker Fernando Torres, whose prospects of reaching Brazil have improved with Atletico striker Diego Costa struggling with a hamstring injury, expects all of his teammates to be ready by the team's Group B opener against the Netherlands in Salvador.

''You forget about fatigue when you are playing for Spain at the World Cup,'' Torres said Monday. ''It's happened in other tournaments, too, and we managed well. Players from big clubs are used to long seasons.''

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

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