Argentina men defeated Belgium to win Olympic gold at Rio 2016 Photo: FIH/Getty Images

On this day: Argentina conquer Belgium to win 2016 Olympic gold

August 18, 2017

Was it really just a year ago that the blue and white clad section of the Deodoro Stadium in Rio was rocking to the sound of jubilant fans celebrating as Argentina swept to a 4-2 win over Belgium to make sure a new name was carved into men’s Olympic hockey history? 

Argentina’s win was remarkable in many ways. The team had come such a long way in such a short time. In 2012, they left the London Olympics in 10th place, losing in their final match to New Zealand. At that stage they slipped to 11th in the FIH World Rankings. Argentina's Los Leones redeemed themselves with an unexpected bronze medal at the 2014 World Cup but they were still not seen as real medal contenders in Rio.

In the pool matches at Rio they finished third in the pool behind Germany and the Netherlands after losing to India and narrowly scraping past Ireland, earning just two wins from five pool games. Hardly the stuff of Olympic champions.

Belgium were also not considered true medal prospects although the team had been on an upward trajectory for many years. Their Red Lions had won an Olympic medal before but that was back in 1920 and, since then, they won a silver at the 2013 European Championships, finished second in the Hockey World League Final in 2015 and had several near-misses. 

In Rio they finished top of the group after beating Australia in a tense 1-0 match; winning against Great Britain in a 4-3 thriller and thumping 12 goals past host nation Brazil. 

In the Quarter-Finals, Argentina were made to work hard for their place in the Semi-Finals by a determined Spain. Gonzalo Peillat got the ball rolling with a penalty corner in the 15th minute but that was all that split the teams for the majority of the match as the action flowed back and forth. Pau Quemada hit back in the 57th minute and the match looked to be going to shoot-out until a foul in the Spanish circle gave Juan Gilardi the chance to step up and score with a confident penalty stroke. 

Belgium came from behind against India to win by a 3-1 margin. Akashdeep Singh gave the Asian team the lead in the 15th minute but then the traffic became one-way as Sebastien Dockier scored twice and Tom Boon added a third.

The Semi-Finals saw three European teams in action, with Germany looking in ominously good form after their thrilling last minute win against New Zealand in the Quarter-Finals. For many, the German come-back in the final seconds of the match was a highlight of the entire competition.

This time it was Argentina who faced the German team but, despite a late flurry of German goals, there was to be no repeat happy ending for Valentin Altenberg and his men. Peillat got his team off to a dream start with a hat trick of penalty corner goals in the first half. Joaquin Menin and Lucas Vila added to the rout. In the 51st minute Moritz Fuerste scored for Germany and Christopher Ruhr added a second with two minutes to go, but Argentina had done enough to secure a 5-2 win and passage to the final. 

The other Semi-Final saw Netherlands face Belgium, with the Dutch team favourites to progress based on world ranking and past meetings between the teams. In the event, Belgium played a near perfect game. Jerome Truyens opened the scoring in the 28th minute, followed by a goal from open play from captain John-John Dohmen. Netherlands struck back before half-time through Mink van der Weerden but Florent van Aubel made sure of the scoreline in the 46th minute. 

And so to the final. Neither team had won Olympic gold before and both sides were determined to re-write history. Belgium got off to the better start as their potent attacking game led to Tanguy Cosyns opening the scoring. This spurred the Argentina side into action with two penalty corners from Pedro Ibarra and Gonzalo Peillat and a field goal from Ignacio Ortiz before half time to give Argentina a 3-1 lead.

The intensity wound up after the break with Gauthier Boccard putting Belgium back in contention, but a subsequent failure to put away chances meant the Red Lions resorted to removing their goalkeeper deep in the fourth quarter. Agustin Mazilli was able to capitalise as Belgium lost possession and raced the other end of the pitch to seal the win. 

Speaking to Reuters News agency after the match, Belgium captain John-John Dohmen said: “We had so many opportunities today, we should have done better, if you don't score your opportunities you cannot win. It's simple." He added: "But one year ago nobody would bet on us and now we are here," grinning and holding up his silver medal. 

On the key to their famous win that day in August 2016, Argentina’s Facundo Callioni said: “We are a perfect team. Everybody knows their role, everybody knows what they have to do on the field. We just wanted that gold medal so desperately."



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