How many people would have predicted a Belgium v Argentina final in the Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament in Rio? How many people would have predicted Argentina to win gold?
Congratulations to Argentina and their coach Carlos Retegui on what has been a fantastic achievement. The men’s team had been overshadowed for so long by the womens team, but now they can rightly stand side by side.
In 2013, Retegui who had coached the women’s team decided that men would take on the nickname “Los Leones.” There was a groundswell of objections, as the women were called “Las Leonas,” but Retegui prevailed. Now the men have done something that their female counterparts have yet to achieve, won Olympic Gold. The women having sadly lost two Olympic finals in Sydney and London.
Credit must also go to Belgium’s New Zealand coach Shane Macleod who only took over the reins of the national team in October 2015 replacing Jeroen Delmee. He had the shortest preparation of any coach with his team, but guided them to their first ever final and a first ever silver medal. Belgium reaping the rewards for a great junior program, that was set up by outgoing Hockeyroos coach Adam Commens and continued by Black Sticks coach Colin Batch.
At the Champions Trophy in London in June, Belgium were a side that looked underdone. McLeod had given the players, who had all opted to move back to Belgium last year to be closer to home to prepare for the Olympics, time off and there were many who thought that he had left too short a preparation time to be a serious contender. However he had the preparation timed to perfection, and can rightly be proud of his young team.
Today will be the Women’s final and again a team that looked out of sorts at the Champions Trophy will be playing for Gold, Great Britain. This will be the first time that Great Britain’s womens team has ever played off in the Gold medal game.
In London, Danny Kerry the coach of Team GB, continually assured his employers and the public that he knew what he was doing as his team spluttered along and struggled in front of goal. In Rio his team has done him proud and rewarded his faith in them. The gutsy win over New Zealand in the semi finals when Crista Cullen and Georgia Twigg left the field after what looked like serious injuries shows the spirit of this team. Cullen had her skull split open but came back on, Twigg had a ball deflected into her face.
No doubt the players recall London 2012 when Kate Richardson-Walsh had her jaw broken in the game against Japan. It was an injury that was expected to rule her out for the tournament, but after two matches she was back with her team. Great Britain went on to claim bronze. That was their first medal since bronze in 1992 in Barcelona.
Richardson-Walsh had thrown down a leadership marker, and it appears that her team mates acknowledge the standard that she has set. She is a definite leader, and her marriage to team mate Helen Richardson-Walsh has again been hailed by other gay people who have struggled to have have the courage to be open about their relationships. Much of the attention in the media in the lead up to the final has been about this fact, and that the Richardson-Walshs will be the first same sex couple to ever compete in an Olympic final together. Yet it is her leadership on the pitch that is going to be the key tonight.
Kate is 36 years old and Great Britain’s most capped female player with over 350 international caps. Her partner is 34 years old, and it was Helen who said three years ago, when many thought she should have retired after the London Olympics, “I’m going to carry on until one of the youngsters kicks me out of the team.”
This attitude has been beneficial for the team as a whole, as they not only have experienced players in the team, but ones who will fight to belong to the team; they don’t expect to simply be there.
The Netherlands will be the favourites going into the final but don’t be surprised if there is another upset. Team GB is riding a wave of confidence. They beat the Netherlands in the final of the Unibet Eurohockey Championships last year. They were 2-0 down and came back to draw 2-2 and then prevailed in the shoot out 3-1, with goalkeeper Maddie Hinch the hero. The defeat stunned the Dutch.
Then in London at the Champions Trophy the Netherlands were again favourites to win the final, but the Argentineans attacked from the opening whistle and scored two quick goals. The Dutch, without the lethal Martje Paumen who was injured, looked shell-shocked and struggled to fight back and match the intensity of the opposition. Argentina won 2-1.
Rest assured Great Britain will be equally as intense and will chase and harry the Dutch for an hour. They will give it everything they have, and more.
It has been a tournament of upsets so don’t be surprised if there is another one today, as Danny Kerry looks to make many eat their words, and prove that he had his team peaking at the right time.