Spain overcame a fighting New Zealand 3-1 yesterday to record their third consecutive win and retain the top spot in the men's International Champions Trophy field hockey tournament.
Pau Quemada scored two penalty corners and Santiago Freixa netted a superb reverse flick after a solo run down the center to bring Spain victory after both sides were locked goalless at half-time.
Darren Smith scored a consolation goal for the Kiwis to level at 1-1, but it was not enough to prevent his side plunging to their third defeat in the six-nation round-robin league.
Spain, who finished fourth at the Athens Olympics in August, have nine full points from three matches with crucial games ahead against title contenders Netherlands and Pakistan.
The Dutch and the hosts, who have six points from two matches, faced off later yesterday in a key encounter.
The top two teams from the league will contest the final on Sunday.
Spain, who beat second-string Germany and India in their previous matches, almost stumbled in their first big game when the Kiwis kept them at bay in the first half.
The Spaniards went ahead six minutes after the interval when Quemada, who had missed two penalty corners in the first half, struck with the third.
Smith drew level six minutes later but Quemada and Freixa pumped in two more goals to beat back New Zealand's challenge.
Spain, however, lost the services of young striker Eduard Arbos for the rest of the tournament when he dislocated his left shoulder after a fall during the match.
The Kiwis, sixth at Athens and playing in only their fourth Champions Trophy, lost their first two matches to the Netherlands and Pakistan.
Spain's Dutch coach Maurits Hendriks was a relieved man after the win.
"There are no easy matches in the Champions Trophy and New Zealand showed that today," Hendriks said.
"But we will take the nine points any day and are confident of doing well in the two tough matches to come against the Dutch and Pakistan," he said.
New Zealand coach Kevin Towns said several missed chances cost his team dearly.
"Our plans worked quite well but we were not able to convert the opportunities that came our way," he said.
Netherlands vs Pakistan
Defending champions The Nether-lands took a giant leap towards a Champions Trophy hat-trick when they defeated hosts Pakistan 4-1 yesterday.
The Dutch, who won the elite six-nation event in 2002 and last year, recorded their third successive win in the current tournament to join Spain at the top of the round-robin league with nine points each.
Spain, 3-1 victors over New Zealand earlier, lead the table with a superior goal difference of 12-3 against the Netherlands' 14-7.
Pakistan, who have six points from three matches, must beat India and Spain in their remaining games to stay in contention.