Indian Men's hockey team and coach Terry Walsh during practice
Bogged down by two successive losses, an under-pressure Indian hockey team will be confronted by Spain's livewire strikers when the two teams clash in their preliminary league encounter of the World Cup at the Greenfields Stadium on Thursday.
After conceding match-winners to Belgium and England in the closing stages of successive matches, the Indian defence will need to raise its game several notches against Spain, who won a penalty shootout against India for the fifth position when they last met in the 2013 World League Semifinals.
Financial woes have forced the Spanish hockey team to opt out of some big-league events over the past two years, but the crux of the team is still there, and could again be troublesome for the Indian defenders. Santi Frexia and seasoned Eduard Tubau would be major threat to the wobbly defence of India.
Indian team's technical director, Roelant Oltmans feels the high-quality individuals in the Spanish team could pose problems for his team. But Indian players, according to Oltmans, are professional enough to overcome the trauma of the losses in earlier games.
"We've not played Spain often in recent times, but they have several high-quality players in their ranks," said Oltmans.
"We'll have to perform well as a team to overcome this rival."
Oltmans said it was disappointing to have lost two matches due to late goals, but the Indian team has "played quite well."
Oltmans said there were clear signs of the team's rising performance graph, and it should be visible more in the World Cup itself.
"We're disappointed over the result, but not at the level of performance by the boys. In due course, it should lead to better results. The Indian team needs to lift its game further," he said.
While India have no points from two outings, Spain have just one from a 1-1 draw against England following which they were beaten 3-0 by defending champions Australia.
Spanish coach Salvador Indurain says his team has not lost hope of making the semifinals.
"We'll now play every match as a final. The Indians are complicated rivals. India is also ranked higher than us and it's not going to be easy for us," said Indurain, aware of the problems the Indians could cause for Spain.
"We know how the Indians play and they've improved a lot. We're not as strong as we used to be a few years ago, although we have several senior players," he added.
Eight players in Spain's team have played more than 100 internationals. Tubau's 269-match experience makes him the most experienced, followed by Ramon Alegre (256 matches) and David Alegre (219 matches).
Captain Frexia, the star strikers of many internationals for Spain, has featured in 179 matches, while goalkeeper Quico Cortes has 162 international caps against his name.
Others who have played over 100 games are Roc Olava and Miquel Delas. Indian captain Sardar Singh has 182 caps, while others with more than 100 appearances are Gurbaj Singh, V R Raghunath and S V Sunil.
Coach Indurain would prefer Spain going into the contest as the underdogs, since that could take the pressure away from his players.
"We have some fine players in the team, but the entire unit needs to focus on competing. They should not let other factors distract them."