The perfect team: Argentina hold off Belgium to take men's hockey gold
A 4-2 win handed the South American nation their first medal in men’s hockey after edging a close-fought match between two teams few expected to make the final
Argentina beat Belgium 4-2 to claim the Olympic Games title on Thursday and win their country’s first medal in men’s hockey after edging a close-fought match between two teams few expected to make the final.
Long playing in the shadow of a much-celebrated women’s team, Argentina’s men will leave Rio with their first Olympic hockey medal.
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Belgium’s sliver was their best finish at the Games in 96 years after they last took home bronze in Antwerp in 1920.
“We are a perfect team. Everybody knows their role everybody knows what they have to do on the field,” said Argentine forward Facundo Callioni. “We just wanted the gold more than Belgium.”
Both teams had beaten the odds in Rio de Janeiro to make their first Olympic final after Belgium eliminated world number two the Netherlands 3-1 on Tuesday, hours before Argentina routed defending champions Germany 5-2.
The Germans were reduced to scrapping it out for third place against the Dutch ahead of the main event, with two-time gold medallists Germany claiming the bronze after winning a penalty shoot-out 4-3 following a tense 1-1 draw.
Belgium’s potent attacking game was evident from the start, building on a strong performance in the group stages where they racked up 21 goals, more than any other team in the tournament.
With less than two minutes gone, Tanguy Cosyns deflected a strike from the top of circle to claim an early lead for the men in red. But the Argentine Lions roared back, scoring from two penalty corners and netting a third before half-time.
As storm clouds gathered, the intensity waned after the break, with neither team able to land a shot before Belgium’s Gauthier Boccard put the ball into the bottom left corner.
Belgium failed to score from two successive penalty corners deep in the fourth quarter.
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On the back foot, they swapped their goalkeeper for an extra man to chase a last-minute equaliser which never came.
“We had so many opportunities today, we should have done better,” said Belgian captain John-John Dohmen. “If you don’t score your opportunities you cannot win. It’s simple.
“But one year ago nobody would bet on us and now we are here.”
With fifteen seconds left on the clock, an interception allowed Argentina’s Agustin Mazzilli to seal the win in style, walking the ball into an open Belgium goal.
At a tournament which has struggled to fill seats in Rio and had its place on the Olympic programme questioned by Games organisers, the gold medal showdown drew a sell-out and boisterous crowd at the Olympic Hockey Centre.
Argentine supporters lined the stands in blue and white, erupting in song as the final whistle blew and stripping off their shirts to cheer their victorious countrymen.