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As those records suggest, both teams had to beat the odds to make the final, with Belgium overcoming the world No2-ranked Netherlands 3-1 in their semi-final before Argentina saw off defending champions Germany 5-2. The battle for gold was a close-fought affair, with the Belgians serving notice of their potent attacking game from the start, building on a strong performance in the group stages where they racked up 21 goals, more than any other side in the competition.
With less than two minutes gone, Tanguy Cosyns deflected a strike from the top of the circle to claim an early lead for the men in red. The Argentinians hit back with two goals from penalty corners, with a third strike giving them a comfortable half-time lead. Belgium pulled a goal back through Gauthier Boccard, but failed to take advantage of two successive penalty corners deep into the fourth quarter.
Forced to throw caution to the wind as the clock ticked down, they swapped their goalkeeper for an extra man to chase a last-gasp equaliser that never came. With just seconds remaining, Agustin Mazzilli sealed it for the Argentinians, intercepting a pass and advancing unopposed to roll the ball into the vacant Belgian goal.
Reacting to a win that will go a long way to putting Argentina’s men on a par with the country’s illustrious women’s side, Mazzilli said: “I think maybe this is going to help men’s hockey a lot in Argentina. The women’s team has done so well, so now we need raise our standards in men’s hockey.”
Recalling his late goal, he added: “It’s the goal everyone dreams of scoring. That’s why I sat down in the goal and watched
everything going on around me. I had the stadium and my teammates. It was a huge moment.”
No less jubilant, team-mate Pedro Ibarra said: “I can’t believe it. We’ve finished and we’re happy but I think we don’t realise what we’ve done yet. We were convinced that we were going to win today.”
After leading Belgium to their best-ever finish at the Olympics, their New Zealander coach Shane McLeod was neverthless disappointed they could not come away with gold: “I think later on we’ll reflect a bit more and be very proud of what we’ve done, but you always want win that last game and we just did too many things wrong today.”
Thanking the team’s fans for their backing, McLeod added: “We’ve had fantastic support from people in Belgium, all around the world. My home country has been sending me messages and enjoying the games and enjoying how our boys have played. There’s a hundred positives to two or three negatives, and it will be when we reflect that we will really celebrate a bit.”
The final was preceded by the play-off for third place, with Germany claiming the bronze, beating Netherlands 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out following a tense 1-1 draw in normal time.