Labelled ‘El Classico’ by Carlos Retegui, Friday’s final pits together the two dominant forces on the world stage as Argentina and the Netherlands (8pm, GMT). Between them, they have claimed every world level title dating back to 2006, including six Champion’s Trophies, two World Cups and an Olympic title between them.
It will be the seventh time the sides have met in a title decider since they showed down in the 1974 World Cup decider in Mandeliu when the Dutch came out on top of a 1-0 result after extra-time. Since then, honours have been shared with 2010’s World Cup final in Rosario falling the way of Argentina.
Reaching the final this time around has not been facile for either nation, however, with both sides forced to endure tough battles en route. For the Dutch – the reigning champions – their passage out of Pool A was reasonably serene, notching five wins from five games.
But the semi-final was a real arm-wrestle against a fast and incisive New Zealand who twice held the lead. Maartje Paumen rediscovered her goal-scoring touch to equalise on both occasions from corners to net for the first time this tournament. In so doing, she levelled Alyson Annan’s all-time Olympic goalscoring record of 13 goals and sent the semi to extra-time and, ultimately, penalties where Joyce Sombroek was inspired.
She saved brilliantly three times, repeating the feat of 2011’s Champion’s Trophy final against, you guessed it, Argentina. Eight of the Dutch side of 2008's Olympic triumph return, hoping to emulate the acheivements of Australia’s 1996 and 2000 sides and win back-to-back Olympic titles.
For the South Americans, an early 1-0 loss to the USA meant they were never going to be truly safe until the final whistle of action. But they had the defensive experience to keep Australia at bay and garner the one point they needed to reach the final four, topping the group. It was only by dint of goal difference as New Zealand and the hockeyroos also finished on ten points but a 7-1 success over South Africa proved critical.
In the semi-final, again, they showed a fine defensive awareness to limit Great Britain to precious few shots as the likes of Silvina d’Elia, Noel Barrionuevo and the teenage starlet Florencia Habif had excellent games in coping with the hosts’ threat.
For Luciana Aymar, it was a ground-breaking day, making her Argentina’s most decorated female Olympian as she is guaranteed a fourth medal but she would dearly love to add gold to a collection that already has one silver and two bronze with her name on it. Her country are also yearning for a first Olympic gold while their rivals already have won the title twice.
It sets the back-drop for yet another monumental moment in this perennial saga between world number one and two with the outcome anyone’s guess. Earlier in the day, Great Britain will hope to win their first medal since 1992 when Jane Sixsmith and company claimed bronze in Barcelona. They face a Mark Hager’s New Zealand who are gunning for a first ever medal (3.30pm).
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