India should not allow Spain to corner them (Preview)

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) The mauling they got from Australia can be shattering, but India will have to pick up the pieces quickly as they cannot afford to lose any of their remaining three matches in the Hockey World Cup, starting with Spain here Thursday.

India coach Jose Manuel Brasa will have to devise an effective strategy against the Beijing Olympics silver medallists and expect his boys to implement it on the ground to remain in contention for a semi-final berth. The Pool B is now wide open with four teams, India, Spain, Pakistan and Australia, on three points after two games.

Besides the Spanish challenge, India play group leaders England Friday and the weakest side South Africa in their last Pool match Sunday, and need to eye victories in each of the three outings.

Brasa was spot on when he said India are not in Australia’s league. He may not have named Spain, but they are the world’s third best team.

The Indian team should take heart from their sub-continental rivals Pakistan’s 2-1 victory over the Spaniards to bounce back in the tournament after being outclassed by the home side in the opener.

Pakistan may not have won the hearts of the sizeable crowd cheering them Tuesday, but ensured a much-needed victory by restricting the free movement of the fast-paced Spanish team with a well-managed midfield game.

Spain relies on individual flair, with speed and counter-attacks the hallmark of their team.

India should not concede a good start to Spain, the way they did against the Australians, as recovering from initial setback is always tough in top-flight hockey.

Had it not been for a resolute midfield, India could have very well ended up swelling the Australian tally, as their defence looked in shambles. After his heady show against Pakistan, Sandeep Singh looked lacklustre against Australia, and surely needs to up the ante in the rear besides converting the penalty corners.

The only positive the Indians can take from their 5-2 defeat against Australia is that it has brought down the weight of expectations from the team.

At the same time, it should serve as a reality check for the Indians, who are now aware of their strengths and weaknesses against strong sides.

Even India’s Spanish master coach who has done remarkably well to improve the players’ fitness level, was surprised by the scoreline (5-2) against Australia. As Brasa said after the match, India still have a long way to go to master modern hockey.

‘I wasn’t expecting such a result and thought it would be an even contest. But I was completely mistaken. We were playing the Australians after a long time and now we have to work hard on our fitness,’ he said.

‘We will look into the footage of the match and see where we went wrong and then decide on our plan of action against Spain.’

In their first match, Spain found South Africa a determined lot. The African team matched them in every department and were brilliant in their quick counterattacks that had the Spanish defenders in disarray.

The Spaniards have a strong forward line boasting of the likes of Pablo Amat and Eduard Tubau, who split open the strong Australian defence in the Beijing Olympic semi-finals and staged a sensational turnaround from 0-2 down to stun them 3-2.

In recent years, Spain have added another dimension to their play in the form of their expertise in penalty corners. The emergence of Xavier Ribas and Pau Quemada as quality drag-flick specialists has certainly strengthened the team.

After their loss against Pakistan, Spain, who finished third in the previous edition, would be looking to make the most of the opportunities.

‘Pakistan took us by surprise. We missed a lot of chances and that is not something we do very often,’ said skipper Amat.

‘We know that we have to improve against India. They play a different game, and we have prepared ourselves. Hopefully we can do well.’

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