Dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh scored a brace as the Indian men's hockey team bounced back from their 7-1 loss against Australia in the previous match to cruise past Spain 3-0 and inch closer to a quarterfinal berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
India scored through Simranjeet Singh (14th minute) and Rupinder Pal Singh (15th and 51st) against world No.9 Spain to record a comfortable win in their third Pool A match at the Oi Hockey Stadium.
India, ranked fourth in the world, had earlier defeated New Zealand 3-2 in their opening fixture. Spain, on the other hand, are yet to register a win in the competition. They drew 1-1 against Argentina before losing 3-4 to New Zealand. India will next play reigning Olympic champions Argentina on Thursday.
Despite the win, India's chief coach Graham Reid said the team needs to improve in a lot areas.
"Better result today, but a lot of things to work on from an improvement perspective. The fact that we gave too many corners, that's always a concern when that happens. But the team did really well in terms of defending," he said.
"The first quarter was played very well, we could move the ball really well and it was exactly what we planned to do. We struggled a bit in the second and third quarters."
India played high pressure hockey from the start and dominated possession in initial 10 minutes even though they failed to create any real scoring opportunities.
In the ninth minute, India came close to breaking the deadlock but Simranjeet's deflection from skipper Manpreet Singh sailed over.
Spain secured their first penalty corner in the 12th minute but wasted the chance.
India's sustained pressure bore fruit early on when Spain's defence was caught off guard by Amit Rohidas' pass and an unmarked Simranjeet tapped the ball in past Quico Cortes.
India secured three back-to-back penalty corners in the final minute of the first quarter and from the third set piece, Harmanpreet's flick found the body of a Spanish defender, which resulted in a penalty stroke. Rupinder Pal Singh stepped up to double India's lead.
Spain pressed the Indian defence hard in the second quarter and the play was mostly inside the Indian half.
Spain's pressure earned them three penalty corners in the third quarter -- the last one coming just seconds from the end following a referral -- but the Indian defence held firm.
Experienced India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh had a brilliant game and showed good reflexes to pull off some fine saves.
With a two-goal cushion, the Indians were content in just defending in the fourth quarter as Spain continued to apply pressure.
In the 51st minute India earned a penalty corner, their fourth of the match, from a counter attack. Rupinder was on target again with a powerful low flick to the right of the goalkeeper, to make it 3-0.
In the 53rd minute, Spain secured three consecutive penalty corners but their dragflicker Pau Quemada failed to breach the Indian back-line led by Sreejesh. Spain secured another penalty corner in the final minutes of the game but again Sreejesh denied Quemada to help India keep a clean sheet.
Sreejesh said he is experienced enough to make a comeback after a forgettable outing against Australia. He also lauded the Indian defence, which withstood the pressure put up by the Spaniards on Tuesday.
"Goalkeepers are there to take pressure. I think, when you are experienced enough you will be able to manage the pressure and control the team," he said.
"Against Australia it was very bad for the defence, but today they did a wonderful job. They did their job in the proper way and we came out with a clean sheet so that's most important.
"...if you can forget the past match and bounce back to play a better game, that's most important for a game like that at the Olympic Games."