Spain men’s hockey team is making steady progress after celebrated former Dutch coach Max Caldas took charge after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where they finished eighth. The 49-year-old two-time Olympian (represented Argentina in 1996 and 2000 Olympics), who replaced Frechman Fred Soyez (who had a seven-year stint with the national side), has been able to instil a steely resolve in the team.
Much of these was evident against India in the 2021-2022 edition of the FIH Pro League when they were done in a fine-minute Harmanpreet Singh goal and lost 4-5 in the first leg but rebounded to bag the second leg 5-3. All along the Pro League, Spain despite being finishing seventh, showed that they are capable of matching the best in the business and even outstripping them – their 1-1 draw (shootout loss) and 1-2 loss to Germany, 3-3 draw (shootout loss) against Belgium and 3-4 loss to the Netherlands are a fair indication of the way team has delivered under Caldas. The Redsticks even shocked world number one Ausralia 3-2 in a Test match in Terrassa.
Given this background, India can ill-afford to take them lighty. Agreed, Spain are in rebuilding mode following the retirements of several stalwarts – goalkeeper Quico Cortes, Tokyo Olympics captain Miquel Dallas, and the forward duo of David Alegre and Pau Quemada. The current side only has four Tokyo Olympians – Álvaro Iglesias, Enrique González and Alejandro Alonso and Jose Basterra.
A lot would depend on Marc Miralles, who not only controls the midfield but towers all over pitch – his hat-trick dealt a big blow to India in the first leg of the 2021-2022 FIH Pro League. Miralles would look for support from the experienced trio of Alvaro Iglesias, Enrique González, and Joaquín Menini, who can cause damage to the Indian deep defence. Jose Basterra and Rafael Vilallonga – two young forwards in the side would also look to deliver a telling impact. Spain would look for great things from the Cunill brothers – Pau (one of the finds of the 2021 Junior World Cup) and Pepe as both can be handy in midfield.
The relatively inexperienced Indian forwardline (minus Akashdeep & Lalit) would not have it easy against a Spanish defence that is spearheaded by Ignacio Rodriguez, Gerard Clapes, Marc Recasens, Andreas Rafi, Eduard de Ignacio-Simo and Cesar Curiel. Mandeep Singh would have to shoulder a bigger responsiblity upfront and hope for support from the likes of Dilpreet, Abhishek, and Sukhjeet.
India are aware that Spain is placed in their pool in the 2023 World Cup and the Pro League double-headers would be an opportunity to do a reading of their opponents ahead of the showpiece event to be held in Bhubaneshwar and Rourkela.