Argentina is ranked number two in the world in men’s hockey, following its truimph at Rio Olympics 2016. The profile of Argentine players has changed, from gritty perfomers to match-winners. Uttar Pradesh Wizards’ defender Gonzalo Peillat, top scorer at 2016 Rio Olympics and 2014 World Cup is known for his stunning goals from penalty-corners. He does not think drag flickers will lose prominence in field hockey.
Under guidance from FIH, the sport is experimenting with innovations to bring in more skill into matchplay. Two goals for a field goal in the ongoing Coal India Hockey India League 2017 is resulting in strategic changes. Players tasked with penalty corner set-pieces are trained by coaches to attempt the indirect variation also. Drag flickers like Gonzalo do not step up and fire home each time a penalty corner drill is executed.
The 24-year-old Buenos Aires native took one corner attempt via the direct route for UPW, then watched counterpart Harmanpreet Singh convert two from two corners, both drag flicks for Dabang Mumbai at the Mahindra stadium. Gonzalo believes penalty corners will retain value in matchplay, even as thrilling field goals become talking points.
Rio Olympics 2016 did not have any distinction between the type of goals, field attempts or setpieces. Argentina banked on the youngster's ability in penalty corners (11 goals and top scorer honour) for a podium finish, going home with its first men’s hockey gold medal. Gonzalo talks about popularity for hockey back home after Rio, reasons behind Argentine success in an exclusive chat:
On a podium finish in men’s hockey at Rio Olympic Games:
A: We started in silence, did not say anything about our expectations in the competition. Everyone knows now, we won the gold. We believed in ourselves, of course. Learning game by game was the key.
On the qualities which stood out in Argentina’s success:
A: I must say Argentina played excellent hockey. We showed to everyone that we were the better team, more efficient than others. After losing to India (group phase), we beat Spain (quarterfinal), Germany (semi-final) and Belgium (final). We remained unbeaten in the tournament.
On change in life, if any, after returning home with gold :
A: Life changed for all of us. Back home in Argentina, a lot of people now know about the hockey players. Sometimes when we are on the streets, people ask for pictures with us. I can say for sure, back home hockey players are more popular than before.
On finishing as the Olympics men’s hockey top scorer:
A: I did not plan it, but before the Rio competition, we had an army (multiple options) for the corners and used it in the tournament. The team believed in me when it came to (converting) corners and that was the key to success.
On HIL 2017 innovation to reward one field goal by each team with two goals:
A: I think the rule is a bit strange, because the penalty corners are very important. They (Dabang Mumbai) scored two from corners and won the match. Two goals for every field, we have to see how it goes in the coming matches. I see the penalty corners remaining very important for teams in the coming years.
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