The 15th Men’s Hockey World Cup held in India was the first major tournament for the Spain men’s hockey team under coach Max Caldas, who took over from Frenchman Soyed Frederic after the Red Sticks’ disappointing 8th place finish at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Spain clearly raised their game by several notches since the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and gave formidable Australia a run for their money in the quarterfinal and eventually settle for the sixth position. This was a distinct improvement from their Olympic performance at Tokyo. “I believe it was not a great but still a good World Cup for us. We have got better and better as the tournament progressed and were much more competitive in the knockout phase than we were in the pool stage, which is always a sign of a good team,” says Caldas in a chat with Hockey Passion.
The celebrated former Netherlands coach, elaborates on Spain’s World Cup campaign. “Our 6th place finish is a big improvement over our 13th place in the 2018 World Cup – it was the worst performance in Spain’s world cup history. We had finished 8th in the 2014 World Cup and Spain had one of the youngest sides in the tournament. I’m pretty pleased with the way my boys delivered in the 15th World Cup,” he sounded as pleased as a punch.
Spain appeared to cause an upset in the World Cup quarterfinal against Australia when they were leading 2-0 in the first twenty minutes of play before they surrendered the initiative – a match Kookaburras won by the skin of their teeth. “Our quarterfinal tie could have gone either way. We could have been easily up 3-0 but not for an open goal miss. Such is the nature of international hockey – a 2-0 or a 3-0 lead is never safe,” says the former Argentinean defender, who represented the Los Leonas at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2004 Athens Olympics.
Caldas, who had guided the Netherlands women’s team to glory at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 World Cup, puts forth his thoughts on where Spain stands as compared to the top 4-5 teams. “There will be reasons why certain teams are above us, in terms of rankings. I think among the top 8-9 teams it is all about being at your best and finding different ways to outsmart the opposition – the challenge lies in doing it consistently.”
There is a great deal of talk about Caldas being a frontrunner for the Indian men’s team coach job. “I really don’t know what discussions are going on for Indian men’s team coach role and I don’t wish to comment on it. I’m just focused on my current job with Spain,” says the shrewd coach, who would be hoping for his team to raise the performance bar at the 2024 Paris Olympics. “I never believe in the word ‘expectations’. It’s all about improving from where you are at the moment and staying focused on your programme.
. My boys would keep working hard,” he signs off. It may be worth mentioning that Spain have never won the World Cup – they had finished runners-up in the inaugural 1971 Barcelona World Cup as hosts to Pakistan and subsequently to the Netherlands in the 1998 Utrecht World Cup. The Redsticks had picked up a bronze in the 2006 Monchengladbach World Cup.