Two of the world’s best penalty corner specialists will be competing in Buenos Aires, and with so much at stake, they know they must hit the target.
Buenos Aires is the city of flamboyancy, vibrancy and style. When the Hockey World League Semi Finals come to town, the fans flocking to the matches will be looking for the same drama and pizzazz on the pitch.
And among the galaxy of stars hoping to propel their teams to victory and a place in December’s Hockey World League Finals are two drag flickers extraordinaire – Black Stick’s Andy Hayward and Argentina’s Gonzalo Peillat.
When New Zealand men’s hockey team won the Sultan Azlan Cup in April it put to rest many of the bogeymen that have haunted the team. Firstly, the victory came at the expense of neighbour and world number one side, Australia; secondly, the team showed its courage and maturity by refusing to let a last minute goal scored in regular time send them into panic; and thirdly, the Black Sticks won the shoot-out convincingly.
After the match, coach Colin Batch said he was thrilled that his team had managed to close out the game under the intense pressure of a shoot-out and added that this was a big step forward in the team’s preparations for the Hockey World League Semi Finals.
Man of the Match in that final was New Zealand’s drag flick specialist Andy Hayward, whose two goals in regular time had put the Black Sticks in the driving seat. His team mates will be hoping the 29-year-old will be on equally good form when they arrive in Buenos Aires in a month’s time.
The New Zealander, who played in the English Premier League for Hampstead and Westminster this year, is one of a number of Black Sticks with a high number of caps and an equally impressive goal tally. Hayward currently has 186 caps and will be approaching his 200th cap in Argentina. Hayward’s goal tally is now approaching 100 international goals, and as he plays as a defender or defensive midfielder, most of those goals come via a lethally fast drag flick.
Also hoping that his drag flick is on target is the local favourite, Gonzalo Peillat. With a passionate home crowd cheering Los Leones every step of the way, the pressure will be on the 22 year old. Argentina is ranked one place above New Zealand in sixth place, and while the teams do not face each other in the pool matches, there is every chance they will meet in a play-off round. Peillat’s drag flick is one of the weapons that Carolos Retegui will be using as he attempts to orchestrate a home win and secure his team qualification for Rio 2016.
The rise of Los Leones has been impressive over the past two years. The team went to the 2014 World Cup as the 11th ranked nation and came away with a bronze medal. Prior to that, Argentina had won the 2011 Pan-American Games ( a title it defends this summer) and is the undisputed king of South American hockey as it has won the past six South American Championships.
And at the heart of the blue and white team’s increasing potency as a world force is the young defender, Gonzalo Peillat, who scored 10 of Argentina’s 15 goals in the 2014 World Cup and was top scorer at that competition. “He has the potential to become one of the best players in the world,” said Retegui of the man they have nicknamed The Axe. And with age very much on his side, Peillat has to be tipped to continue leading Argentina to greater things.
Argentina’s opening match is against Austria – the lowest ranked team in the competition, while New Zealand face Eygpt – ranked 20th in the world.