Argentina were the surprise package of the tournament, holding the Netherlands to a 3-3 draw in their opening fixture, defeating Spain in the quarters and then humiliating Germany, the defending champions in the semis. They are capable of beating any team on their day and they did the same to Belgium, winning 4-2 in the grand finale.
Argentina's men’s hockey team earned its first Olympic hockey medal and that too a gold in Rio! This will certainly boost men's hockey, not just in Argentina but the whole South American subcontinent which was well known for its much-celebrated women's team.
As a spirited team, they showed how one can defeat higher ranked opponents with a good pressing game of hockey. Their penalty corner exploits have been match-winning. Gonzalo Peillat, the ace drag-flicker of Argentina was also the top scorer of the tournament with 11 goals to his name.
All round prowess of the Red Lions
Belgium, on the other hand, were the form team of the tournament and hence the team to beat. After all, they had advanced to the final by overturning an 80-year-old unbeaten record of the Netherlands against Belgium in any major tournament by winning the game 3-1 to enter their first ever Olympic finals.
They managed to score a massive 21 goals in their group stages and 29 overall including the knockout stages, the highest by any team in the tournament. Not only did they score many field goals but also they had almost everyone on the score sheet. This is heartening to see in modern hockey, where versatility is the key and more so in the age of penalty corners!
Germany wins bronze
In the first semi-final, Argentina humiliated Germany with a score of 5 goals to nil only to be pegged back with 2 goals in the last minutes to make the score 5-2. Ace drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat scored off the first three penalty corners in the first 30 minutes itself, to make it 3-0 at half time!
It was good to see Germany regaining their shape and composure to bounce back and win the bronze, against the Dutch who are currently the second best team in the world. They held their nerves to win the penalty shoot-out after the game had ended in a 1-1 draw, thereby defeating them for the second time having done it before in the group stages.
It also marked the end of Moritz Fürste and Tobias Hauke's playing career, the German legends who has now 2 golds and 1 bronze in his kitty. Both have been perfect ambassadors of not just Germany but for the game of hockey on a whole! Another legend and great of hockey - Jamie Dwyer also bowed out of international hockey. Sadly his team could not give him the perfect farewell with a podium finish. He was the oldest player in the tournament at 38 years.
The curious case of Netherlands
Netherlands did play a good brand of hockey as they always have, only to be outdone by an in-form Belgian side. They really wanted the gold this time round and had been extremely secretive in their preparations leading up to the tournament.
They didn't participate in any other event in the whole of 2016. And not finishing on the podium will hurt them even more. They would perhaps sack their Argentine coach and go in with someone who can rejuvenate the winning mentality in the team, that has been missing off late with no major cup in their bag.
Resurgence of Spanish & ascendance of Irish hockey
For a team that was having doubts to even make it to this tournament and was the last one to confirm its participation, Spain really showed how much of an improved team they are now disregarding their no. 11 rank. They were leading their group in the initial matches. They shocked Australia with a narrow 1-0 victory and then managed to pull off a victory in the dying seconds of the match against Kiwis and in lost only to Belgium.
Moreover, in the absence of the 5-8 place classification places they finished 5th courtesy more points and a higher goal difference o comparison to all losing quarter-finalists.
The Irish team ranked 12th in the world, also gave a tough fight to all its opponents in Group B. They lost 3 of their matches with a close 1 goal margin with an identical score of 2-3 against India, Germany and Argentina. Both these teams would hence improve on their current ranking.
The Kiwis also fought close matches against the other group A opponents. They managed to also shock the in-form team Belgium in their final group match to make it to the quarterfinal at the expense of Britain.
Fall of the British & Australian empire
The biggest non-performers of the tournament were Britain as they failed to do justice to their world rank of 4. Unlike their female compatriots who had a perfect record, the men's team couldn't qualify for the knockouts stage and this would drop them in the latest rankings. They drew against Spain in their final encounter which was a must-win encounter for them.
They lost heavily to Belgium in the opening fixture of Group A and then narrowly to another struggling side Australia as well as drawing with New Zealand, a game they were expected to win. The team looked weak and devoid of Plan B's and they need a good shakeup as they have been out of sorts in both the Champions Trophy and now the Olympics.
Also read: Rio shake up heralds changing of the guard
Australia were no. 1 coming into this tournament and perhaps one of the favourites to clinch gold. But they lost their opening 2 matches against Spain and Belgium. They managed to gather some momentum in the final matches. But then again, instead of topping their group, they finished 3rd meaning they had the daunting task of facing the Dutch in the quarters which was too big a task given their form.
Another legend and great of hockey - Jamie Dwyer also bowed out of international hockey. Sadly his team could not give him the perfect farewell with a podium finish. He was the oldest player in the tournament at 38 years.
Performance of the minnows
Brazil being the hosts just played this tournament as an experience and would try to build upon their fan base over the coming few years. Canada was beaten by all other teams, except for a draw in their last match against India. They would be happy with this result given their ranking of 15 and more so that their result caused and altered India's knockout stage plans.
India's mixed performance
India were superb in their penalty corner conversion but equally lackluster in front of the goal with just 3 field goals in the tournament. This was the cause of not earning a single pc in the quarterfinal loss against Belgium. India’s defence was solid but Raghunath earned 4 cards throughout the tournament and his loss at crucial junctures of the match tilted the outcome of the match in favor of the opposition.
But mind you India had beaten Argentina in the group stages and also scored first against the Red Lions of Belgium, which talks about how close and tough this tournament has been. A detailed article dissecting India’s performance would follow soon.
Final Men - Standings
With the Rio Olympics having no classification matches, the positions were decided on the number of wins and goals scored in the league phase. India had a poor goal difference as compared to all other teams and hence were positioned 8th position. This is certainly not good given their current ranking of 5, a minimum of the same ranking was expected. However, on a positive note this is an improvement from their wooden spoon finish in the 2012 London Olympics.
Note: Rules for classification: 1) Points; 2) Goal difference; 3) Goals scored; 4) Head-to-head result
Great Britain denied defending champions - the Netherlands a hat-trick of Olympic golds in a tense penalty shoot out victory after the match was tied 3-3. Great Britain were the form team of the tournament where they topped the group, with an invincible record.
Germany doubled their bronze tally in hockey after the men's team clinched 3rd place beating Nederlands. This time, the women's team defeated the Kiwis i.e. New Zealand 2-1 to take the bronze medal.
USA had the best goal difference among the losing quarter-finalists and hence was placed 5th. Australia finished higher above Argentina, who were one of the tournament favorites.
Argentina – one of the title contenders had the poorest performance, as they finished a lowly 7th. This shows how big a void Luciana Aymar, one of its star player and hockey legend has left behind. It also highlights the amount of rebuilding the team needs to do in her absence, trying to turn new players into leaders and winners.
India finished a lowly 6th in their group with a solitary draw against Japan and hence were positioned 12th i.e. had to contain taking the wooden spoon. India would be happy to have qualified after 36 years in the first place and drawing a higher ranked opponent in Japan. But what could have been a real icing on the cake, was perhaps a win or at least giving a spirited fight against other higher ranked teams and pulling off a surprise. Unfortunately, they had the worst goal difference of -16 in any of the two groups.
Hence, they would be certainly disappointed by the margin of their defeats. And, it is here where the team missed their captain Ritu Rani the most. Her experience would have come handy to stem the tide of goals and muster some much-needed confidence in the team to build their own attacks.
Final Women - Standings
|5||United States of America|
The Indian men's team is set to play in 4-nation tournament in Australia in the month of November with New Zealand and Malaysia being the other teams during this quadrangular event. It looks most likely that the senior players will be given some rest and a new bunch of players, especially forwards would be tried out. We eagerly look forward to watching future matches and India’s resurgence in world hockey!