Argentina’s incredible penalty corner proficiency saw them build a big first half lead that they defended in amazing fashion to win their first ever men’s Olympic gold medal with a 4-2 win over fellow first time finalists Belgium.
The Argentineans – spurred on by an immense crowd in the packed Deodoro stadium – came into the tie with two enforced changes with Mathias Paredes and Mathias Rey both missing out through injury with Lucas Masso and Isidoro Ibarra both coming in for their first game of the competition.
And it was Belgium who made the first incision just three minutes into the tie when Tanguy Cosyns got a brilliant first-time deflection to Loick Luypaert’s powerful ball from 40 metres out, catching Juan Vivaldi unawares.
But Argentina were not drawn out of their tactical set-up, sitting half-court and then looking to counter attack at speed. It led to a number of openings with Agustin Mazzilli’s high strike showing intent.
Manu Brunet – who plays his club hockey with Royal Daring in Belgium – won a corner with a mazy run down the left flank. All were expecting a Gonzalo Peillat drag-flick but, instead, Argentina played an audacious dummy behind his back and Pedro Ibarra had loads of space to flick home.
Under three minutes later, Ignacio Ortiz put Los Leones in front with a strong push from mid-circle, set up by Lucas Vila’s touch inside his marker on the right edge of the circle.
Belgium replied in the second quarter, winning a pair of penalty corners but Luypaert saw his shot go wide while Tom Boon’s effort was blocked down. Argentina, on the flip side, cannot miss from set-pieces at this stage and they went 3-1 up via Peillat who nailed his 11th goal of the campaign with a low drag from their second corner.
The third quarter proved slightly quieter as Argentina defended their 23m line well, leaving precious few gaps for Belgium to penetrate. They did, however, get one back with eight seconds to go before the end of this period, Simon Gougnard picking out Gauthier Boccard on the right if the circle.
He hopped the ball past two would-be tacklers and dodged away from another to give him a great shooting opportunity, smashing home from eight yards out.
They continued to push into the final quarter. They could not make their corner chances with two in the last six minutes going awry without a shot on target. Florent van Aubel also saw a great chance smothered by Vivaldi at point-blank range.
And the game was sealed with 16 seconds to go when Agustin Mazzilli robbed the ball from a loose clearance, running the ball into an open goal for 4-2 and the gold medal.