Argentina men out from women's shadow in Rio field hockey

Publish date:

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) When the question has been ''Argentina plus field hockey,'' the answer has usually been ''Las Leonas.''

The Lionesses, the national women's team.

Featuring the great Luciana Aymar, the women in this century, alone, medaled at the last four Olympics, won two World Cups and seven Champions Trophies.

Meanwhile, the men's team, Los Leones, played in relative obscurity. Even when they achieved their best international result, a bronze at the 2014 World Cup, the women won bronze, too.

But no more are they in the shadow of the women, who play in the quarterfinals on Monday.

The men reached the semifinals for the first time in 11 Olympics on Sunday by beating Spain 2-1, and will have two attempts at a medal from Tuesday. The winning goal against Spain came just 68 seconds from the end, a penalty stroke by veteran defender Juan Gilardi.

Their joy was unrestrained at the Olympic Hockey Stadium, as they jumped in a huddle or leaped into each other's arms. Some went to console the Spaniards, who were spread across the turf in tears.

''This is a reward for all Argentine hockey,'' coach Carlos Retegui said. ''Those guys in Argentina shirts played with heart, and this is a prize for work, work, and more work, for teamwork, for commitment, patience, execution, and intelligence in their play.''

The men have always been good - making the Olympics says so - but just not good enough to play for medals.

After a roller-coaster run through the pool stage, highlighted by four goals to draw with Germany, the defending two-time champion, Los Leones proved the 2014 World Cup result was no fluke.

The difference is maturity, especially in the last three years. The side features five players with more than 200 international appearances, and five more with more than 150. Falling behind on the scoreboard doesn't faze them because their leadership has seen it all. They have options up their short sleeves.

''This team never surrenders,'' Retegui said.

Defender Gonzalo Peillat, who scored his team-leading seventh goal from a penalty corner, said the team had high expectations.

''We are a team with the ambition to keep winning, and that's what shows every time we go on the field,'' Peillat said. ''If we want to be champions, we want to meet the best.''