Argentina men, mercurial, brilliant, defensively sharp, quick in attack and with a drag-flick option at penalty corners that is the envy of the world. The past few years have been nothing short of brilliant for fans of Los Leones and hockey aficionados everywhere as the Argentina men have lived out a ‘rags to riches’ story.
Placed tenth in the 2012 Olympics they looked like a team destined to languish at the lower end of the top 10 FIH Hero World Rankings. That changed when they came into the 2014 Rabobank World Cup ranked 11th in the world and, with a heroic performance that saw them beat Germany, New Zealand, Korea and South Africa, they took an incredible bronze medal at the expense of higher-ranked England.
The next two years saw Argentina continue on an upwards trajectory. They won the Pan American Games in 2015 to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They then created their own piece of history by winning gold at the Olympic Games, beating Belgium in a scintillating final, something not even their illustrious female counterparts had achieved.
That victory put them into the world number one position for the first time, over-taking Australia in the process.
In 2017, they took silver at the Hockey World League Final and won the Pan American Cup in the same year. The PAHF victory secured qualification for the 2018 World Cup. However, they slid from first to second in the rankings, and it was as number two in the world that they launched their Odisha Hockey World Cup campaign in Bhubaneswar. Unfortunately things did not go according to plan and Argentina found themselves knocked out in the quarter-final stages losing 3-2 to an inspired England team. That was after suffering a defeat in the biggest shock result of the competition, a 5-3 loss to France, a team ranked 18 places below them.
To add insult to injury, Argentina also slipped two places further down the world rankings and are now fourth, being overtaken by both Belgium and the Netherlands. The team returned to Argentina to lick their wounds and prepare for the FIH Pro League.
The squad will undoubtedly bounce back from their World Cup disappointment, the quality in their ranks is indisputable. In Gonzalo Peilat they have a prolific penalty corner specialist. Lucas Vila is a creative genius and they have quality at both ends of the experience scale – Maico Casella is a star in the making, while Matias Paredes has more than 330 international appearances and still shows no signs of slowing up.
Head Coach German Orozco, a former international for Los Leones, now needs to channel all that talent to ensure that the World Cup early exit was just a blip for this potential world beating team.
Argentina’s FIH Pro League campaign starts with a home fixture at the Estadio Municipal de Hockey in the hockey-mad city of Cordoba. They will face the new World Cup winners Belgium. The two teams met in the 2016 Olympic Games and there will be a squad of players in blue and white who would love a repeat of that result.