Saturday, 20 August 2016

Only One Would Prevail

Like the women yesterday, the men's tournament at the Rio Olympic field hockey competition came down to four teams. Three European teams and one South American team would compete for the three medals up for grabs, and these four teams are some of the best on the planet. The second-, third-, sixth-, and seventh-ranked teams according to the FIH would compete for these three medals. The only question we have to answer is which team would stand alone at the end? We're not going to waste any time in answering that query!

Argentina vs. Germany

Argentina advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Spain in the quarterfinals. The seventh-ranked Los Leones finished in third-place in Pool B with a 2-1-2 record. Germany advanced to the semifinals with a 3-2 victory over New Zealand in the quarterfinals. The third-ranked team on the planet finished atop Pool B in the preliminary round with a 4-0-1 record. These two teams met in the preliminaries and came away with a 4-4 draw, so the rematch would carry a lot more importance with a berth in the gold medal game on the line. Germany needed a win in order to defend their 2012 Olympic gold medal, so there was a lot riding on this game.

This game was dominated by one team, and that started early in the game. Gonzalo Peillat scored at the nine-minute mark and the 12-minute mark off penalty corners to put Argentina up 2-0, and the lethal scoring threat helped his team push the pace against the Germans through the opening quarter.

Peillat capped off the hat trick at the 28-minute mark with his third penalty corner conversion. At points in the match, the commentators referred to Peillat as "the magic man" for his prowess, but it was clear that he came to play on this day. Entering half-time, the Argentinians held a commanding 3-0 lead over the Germans.

Argentina didn't hold back with the lead as they continued to pressure Germany in the third quarter, and they were rewarded in the 36th minute when Joaquín Menini scored from inside the circle to make it a 4-0 game. Germany looked stunned as they tried to mount some offensive pressure, but Los Leones were riding high with their new-found confidence against the third-ranked team, and they denied any and all chances that the Germans had in the third frame.

The Argentinians weren't done, though. Two minutes into the final stanza had Lucas Vila with some room in the scoring circle and he didn't make any mistake in finding the back of the net for a 5-0 lead. Germany, in needing something on which to build momentum, finally netted a goal when captain Moritz Fürste drag flicked a ball past Juan Vivaldi on a penalty corner to cut the deficit to 5-1 at the 51st minute.

The Germans decided to pull the goaltender in needing four goals to equalize, and they poured on the pressure. Christopher Ruhr chipped in a second German goal at the 57th minute, but it was far too little and far too late for this comeback as Argentina held on for victory with the 5-2 score! The Germans would not be defending the gold medal, but they still had a chance at hardware in the bronze medal game. Argentina would compete for its first Olympic gold medal!

Belgium vs. Netherlands

Belgium finished atop Pool A with a 4-0-1 record in the preliminary round. The sixth-ranked team downed India 3-1 in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals. Netherlands finished in second-place in Pool B with a 3-1-1 record, and the second-ranked team advanced to the semifinals with a dominant 4-0 win over top-ranked Australia in the quarterfinals. These two teams didn't meet up in the preliminary round, but they have lots of history against one another with Netherlands holding the edge in the head-to-head meetings. Would that continue today?

The two teams played cautiously through the first frame with neither really pressing as they looked for holes in each other's defences. With the repeated meetings these two teams have played, it felt very much like a chess game early on, but there were chances as the quarter moved along and players found seams. However, the score at the end of the first fifteen minutes was 0-0.

The second quarter was entirely different. In the 25th minute, Belgium was awarded a penalty corner. The initial shot was stopped, but Jerome Truyens corralled the rebound and found the back of the net to put the Belgian squad up 1-0. Four minutes later, John-John Dohmen redirected a pass as he cruised into the scoring circle to put Belgium up 2-0! However, the Dutch wouldn't let Belgium run away with this game before the half as Mink Van der Weerden converted a penalty corner of his own in the 29th minute. After a half-hour of play, Belgium led 2-1 at half-time.

The two teams traded chances and opportunities throughout an entertaining third quarter as both pressed for more goals, but the netminders stood tall. The frantic pace would continue in the fourth quarter, and the Belgians would capitalize early when Florent Van Aubel tipped a pass that eluded goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann for a 3-1 lead at the 46th minute!

The Belgians chose to continue to press, and it almost was costly as netminder Vincent Vanasch was forced to make a huge save off a Dutch counter-attack to keep the two-goal lead intact. However, the Belgian strategy was a wise one as they controlled the ball and kept the Netherlands in their own zone for minutes at a time. When the final whistle sounded, the Belgians had earned a berth in the gold medal final with an upset 3-1 win over the Netherlands! There will be new gold medalists in Rio as the Netherlands will play for bronze!

Netherlands vs. Germany

I doubt that the second- and third-ranked teams on the planet expected to be playing for the bronze medal when this tournament opened as these two were the finalists in London, but here we are as the Netherlands and Germany took to the pitch to determined who would earn the bronze medal. These two teams met in the preliminary round with Germany winning 2-1 on August 12, so would there be a second victory for Germany or would the Netherlands exact some revenge in the biggest game between these two this year?

The first and second quarters were tight-checking affairs with few real scoring chances as the defensive efforts on both sides were great. The closest we got to a goal in the first half was when German Florian Fuchs beat netminder Jaap Stockmann on a play, but the ball was swept away from the goal line by the Dutch defenders to keep the game knotted at 0-0 through 30 minutes of play.

Five minutes into the second half, we finally broke the deadlock. Jorrit Croon, a 17 year-old player from the Netherlands, found the back of the net with his shot to put the Dutch up 1-0. Germany, though, would answer back before the end of the quarter. Martin Haner got an opportunity inside the scoring circle and he made no mistake at the 42nd minute to tie the game at 1-1!

The final quarter was intense as both teams looked for the winner, but neither team opened up enough to allow good scoring chances. We nearly had a winner when Linus Butt had an opportunity, but credit Stockmann for making a huge save in the waning minutes to keep the game knotted up at 1-1. Nicolas Jacobi kept the Germans alive with a couple of key saves in the final minutes, meaning we wouldn't see a winner in regulation time. Like the women's bronze medal game, this game needed a penalty shootout to decide who would go home with the accolades!

In the opening round of the shootout, Netherlands' Billy Bakker was denied by Jacobi while Tobias Hauke found room past Stockmann to put the Germans up 1-0! Both teams would score on their next three attempts to make it 4-3 for the Germans going into Round Five. The Netherlands had to score to keep their medal hopes alive, and they sent Sander de Wijn to the penalty spot for the attempt. Seconds later, Jacobi stopped the flick by de Wijn and celebration broke out on the German bench as the Germans took the shootout 4-3 to win the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics!

Belgium vs. Argentina

Belgium has one men's field hockey medal: a bronze from 1920. Argentina has none. Someone was going to add some new hardware to their mantles and/or trophy cabinets with a victory in the gold medal game at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Belgium really surprised a lot of people with their balanced attack and scoring while Argentina showed that they can score with the best teams in the world. One of these two teams would stand atop the podium at the end of this game!

The game started quickly with Belgium pressing and it didn't take long for them to show up on the scoreboard. Tanguy Cosyns deflected a pass past Juan Vivaldi at the three-minute mark to put Belgium up 1-0. The furious action between these two high-scoring teams continued, and it was Argentina who would capitalize next.

At the 12-minute mark, Argentinian captain Pedro Ibarra scored on a gorgeous behind-the-back penalty corner play that had Belgium completely baffled for the tying goal. Three minutes after that, Ignacio Ortiz found room in the scoring circle to make his shot count, and Los Leones would carry a 2-1 lead into the break.

The second quarter saw Los Leones continue their assault on the Belgian goal, and it would be superstar Gonzalo Peillat converting another penalty corner with a fantastic flick past Vincent Vanasch at the 22nd minute for the 3-1 lead. The two teams would continue to trade chances, but the whistle for half-time would see Argentina carry that two-goal lead into the intermission.

Belgium seemed to be a little more desperate as the third quarter progressed, but their determination would be rewarded with eight seconds remaining in the quarter. Gauthier Boccard hammered home a beautiful strike to bring Belgium within a goal at 3-2 as the two teams prepared for the final fifteen minutes.

Chances were had at both ends. The teams pushed the pace through the entire quarter. Belgium, needing the equalizer, pulled Vanasch for the extra attacker with three minutes to play. They continued to press, but Argentina held the fort long enough for Agustin Mazzilli to find enough room on the pitch to score an empty-net goal with 16 seconds to play for the 4-2 advantage. With no time left to score a pair of goals, Los Leones celebrated wildly at the sound of the whistle as they captured their first gold medal at any Olympics!

After that amazing and entertaining gold medal game, here are the final standings for the men's side of the tournament in Rio de Janiero.

Rank Country Record Differential Points
5-1-2 +8 17
6-2-0 +18 18
5-1-2 +5 17
4-2-2 +14 14
3-2-1 +6 10
3-3-0 +5 9
New Zealand
2-3-1 +8 7
2-3-1 -2 7
Great Britain
1-2-2 +4 5
1-4-0 -6 3
0-4-1 -15 1
0-5-0 -45 0

With the tournament coming to a close and the Olympic Games closing tomorrow, I have to say that this competition was excellent. I really enjoyed the games and the action on the pitch, and I'm hoping that Canada can gain a few more supporters and some extra dollars to continue to build on their appearance in Rio. The men played their hearts out, and I really think they're on the precipice of moving up the rankings if they had a little more support.

If you're interested in the game, hit up the Field Hockey Canada website and see if there's a way for you to help. It could be a volunteer position or paid employment or possibly even as a player on the pitch! We have four years until Tokyo, so let's see if we can get Canada a win or a medal on the Olympic stage!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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