A new champion will make its debut in the Olympic's men hockey history. Argentina will take on Belgium in the summit clash at the Deodora complex here.
The Red Lions and Los Leones and, as they are popularly known, recorded fluent victories in the semi-finals upsetting their more fancied rivals.
Twenty-four year old Gonzalo Peillat scored a hat-trick from as many penalty corners for seventh-ranked Argentina as they mauled twice defending champions Germany with a perfectly orchestrated 5-2 triumph in the first semi-final.
Sixth-ranked Belgium then produced a clinical exhibition of powerplay, outwitting two-time champions and London runners-up Netherlands 3-1.
Argentina tended to struggle in the group stage initially but steadily got into their groove. After well fought drawn encounters against the Netherlands and Germany, the Pan American champions suffered a shock loss to India before finishing the preliminary round robin engagements in third position.
The quarter-final win over Spain brought them into the last four for the first time since their Olympic debut in Mexico in 1968.
Belgium have appeared rock solid from the start of the competition, topping their group with clinical wins against world champions Australia, Great Britain, Spain and hosts Brazil. Their only loss was to New Zealand in the last group fixture.
India was their next target in the last eight and much was expected from this clash. However, the Belgians had other ideas and
demolished India’s hopes of a semi-final berth for the first time since 1972.
Eight time gold medal winners India were clueless against their flawless ball possession, rotation and marking. They completely mastered India with flair, fluency and finesse to register a facile 3-1 victory.
India’s showing can be best described as average considering the moneys spent on their numerous training camps, participation in overseas tournaments and exposures. It is a well known fact that no other team receives such liberal government funding and grants as Indian hockey.
Over the past two years, Argentina has developed into a side that can challenge the very best in the world even though their past Olympic record has been dismal, with the best being eighth place at Seoul and Sydney in 1988 and 2000, respectively.
However, they sounded the bugle when they won the bronze medal in the last World Cup at the Hague in 2014.
Head Coach and former Argentina international Carlos “Chapa” Retegui – the man who, remarkably, guided both the men and the women’s national sides to bronze medals at that World Cup – is overseeing the revolution, helping Los Leones (The Lions) to realise their massive potential.
Argentina has never utilized the services of an overseas coach for either their men or women teams, where the latter have annexed two world and seven Champion Trophy titles. This is all the more creditable as there is very restricted monetary support from government.
Both Belgium and Argentina have long standing squads that have been together for many years, thus bringing out a cohesive and well integrated pattern in their play.
Skippered by John John-Dohmen making his third Olympic appearance, as are Thomas Briels, Cedric Charlier, Felix Denayer and Jerome Truyens, Belgium has impressed with their marksmanship, midfield and defensive prowess.
Tom Boon has completely recovered from his hamstring injury which had damaged the femoral biceps and will be the key man alongside midfield orchestrator Arthur van Doren with the backing of Floren Van Aubel, Tanguy Cosyns, Emmanuel Stockbroekx, Thomas Briels and Simon Gougnard.
Even though Argentina has as many as ten players who are above thirty years including goalkeeper Juan Manuel Vivaldi at 37, they are extremely agile and fit to take on the Red Lions challenge,
Their key players include veteran striker Matias Paredes and creative genius Lucas Vila, defenders Pedro Ibarra alongside Juan Ignacio Gilardi, although it is drag-flicking defender and top scorer with ten goals Gonzalo Peillat who often grabs the headlines besides goalkeeper Vival.