Santi Freixa is a man with a vision. The Spain captain knows that his team lacks international experience, but this World Cup is one step along the way to getting Spain back among the world's hockey elite. "We come into this tournament at a disadvantage because we have not had the international experience necessary to make the next step up," said the engaging Spainiard. "But we are getting better with each game and we feel we have winning performances in us."
The team's problems are not their pitch performances, as Santi explains: "Spain is suffering financial instability, so we have not had the funding to be able to play teams such as India and Australia in preparation for this event. That is not going to change for the moment, so we have to take every experience we can and use that. A lack of funds means that we cannot build up a long-term programme of development. We didn't even enter the Champions Challenge this year and that would have been a great opportunity to get more international experience."
For a country such as Spain, which has a long and proud history within the world of international hockey, poor preparation is a bitter pill to swallow. No matter how talented the individual players, if they are not getting the chance to be competitive with the best teams in the world, then when it comes to major tournaments they are at a disadvantage.
The number of Spanish internationals who play their domestic league hockey outside Spain is also a problem says Santi. "I play in the Netherlands, as do four others in our team. Three more play in Belgium. There are positives and negatives to that. One the one hand, we get experience of playing different systems, playing with other players and being part of a hockey network. So for us, yes it is good, but for the team and for the Spanish league it is bad to have the top players performing elsewhere. It weakens our league and that cannot be good for our national side."
The long-term aim, despite the financial problems, is to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016. "We have a squad that we think can qualify, we have to grow together and learn from everything, every opportunity to play international hockey. We have the talent, we just need the experience. It is like the game today (Spain drew 1-1 with India), it is a match we should have won, but inexperience showed. We have two more games against Belgium and Malaysia and I would hope we can get more points from those games, because of what we have learnt so far."
Certainly Santi is enjoying his World Cup, "For me it is special to be playing for my country in the place I now live. I give 100 per cent in every game, and this time round I have been fortunate because for once I am free of injury. In the past I have had four knee operations and two arm operations, so I know I am fortunate to be here."
Spain's next game is against Belgium and, with the current pool standings, it would take Spain winning both their games and either Belgium or England failing to win further points for Spain to make it through as runners-up in the pool. But for Santi and his men it is about more than simply positions on a table, it is about making each match a learning experience on their long road to Rio.
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