Argentina and South Africa last met at the Champions Challenge 1 and will play each other again in London
Argentina and South Africa last met at the Champions Challenge 1 and will play each other again in London
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In the Spotlight is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days.

The Basics:
Currently ranked ninth in the world, Argentina qualified for London as the Continental Champions – a great relief after seeing the Panamerican direct qualification place snatched away by Canada in 2007 and 2009, which led to the Argentine men missing out on the 2008 Olympic Games after five straight appearances. In total, the Argentine men have competed in nine Olympics, their best finish was two eighth places, in 1988 and 2000. Argentina also participated regularly in World Cups, with a seventh-place finish in 2010, but ended up only fourth in last December’s Champions Challenge 1 – a far cry from their surprise 2008 Champions Trophy bronze.

The Road to London:
Argentina qualified for the Olympic Hockey Tournament by winning the title at the last Panamerican Games in Guadalajara. With their ticket in the pocket since October 2011, the team has been preparing extensively with a number of tours and tournaments, including trips to South Africa, Australia and Belgium as well as a second-place finish in the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Players to Watch:
Argentina has always been strong on set pieces, with stalwart defender Pedro Ibarra its current number one on penalty corners. A member of the Argentine 2005 Junior World Champion team, Ibarra has been a regular on the senior squad, while gaining valuable international experience in the Dutch and Belgian club leagues. A unique feat will be accomplished by the Vila brothers, with three siblings likely to compete in London: Matias, the oldest of three brothers on the squad, guides the team as the captain, and has competed together with middle brother Rodrigo at the 2000 and 2004 Games, while the youngest, quick and dangerous forward Lucas, another 2005 Junior World Champion, is up for his first Olympic appearance.

Coach:
42-year-old Pablo Lombi has led the men’s team of his native country since early 2009, after Carlos Retegui moved over to the women’s program. Before coaching the senior team, Lombi was in charge of the junior men’s program, when he logged his biggest success: the 2005 Junior World Champion title. As a player, Lombi was part of the Argentine national team for five years and played in two Olympics.  London marks his Olympic debut as a coach.

Strengths:
The Argentineans are a solid formation team, with strength emerging from the sum of the parts rather than the odd outstandingly skilled individual. Playing passionate and temperamental hockey, the team is about raw, crackling energy more often than elaborate strategy, and while they have a good penalty corner to fall back on, they don’t rely on it more than necessary, instead counting on their fast forwards to go the direct route.

Weaknesses:
The same passion that makes the boys in the light blue and white stripes a dangerous opponent never to be underestimated, occasionally proves their downfall. Tempers and a lack of mental strength every so often hamper them from realizing their full potential, and the team’s performance, even within a tournament, often becomes inconsistent. They find themselves challenging a top team to the limit one day, but fail to put up even adequate resistance against a lower-ranked opponent the next.

Crystal Ball:
Argentina is highly motivated to perform after missing out on the Olympic experience four years ago but the usual inconsistency of their results is likely to prevent a top tier finish. It is to be expected that their matches will have a big impact on who makes the semi-finals, as they have the potential to wrestle points even from the absolute best teams in the world, but for them, a solid midfield final ranking is more probable.