Argentina’s moment of glory

Jorge Lombi (third from left) of Argentina exults after scoring the first goal against India in the Champions Challenge tournament in Belgium. Argentina beat India 2-1 and then went on to beat New Zealand in the final with Lombi scoring the golden goal.-PTI Jorge Lombi (third from left) of Argentina exults after scoring the first goal against India in the Champions Challenge tournament in Belgium. Argentina beat India 2-1 and then went on to beat New Zealand in the final with Lombi scoring the golden goal.

Even as the Kiwis lay sprawled on the ground in disbelief, stunned by the incredible happenings, the Argentines threw themselves into the arms of ecstasy, writes S. Thyagarajan.

Jorge Lombi (third from left) of Argentina

A fascinating amalgam of fortitude, fervour, skill and self-belief contributed to Argentina’s remarkable victory in the Champions Challenge Cup at Boom (Belgium) on July 1.

The 3-2 victory with the golden goal by Jorge Lombi capping the mounting excitement on a grey Sunday evening was fit enough for a ballad and a carnival in the streets of Buenos Aires. The outcome was a lesson to many as to how a match is not over till the final whistle.

Just reframe the sequence to capture those extraordinary moments. New Zealand looks fairly well ensconced with a 2-0 lead. The time left for the hooter is five minutes. Pressing hard with every ounce of energy left in the nerve-wracking tie, the Argentines, led by that stalwart, Jorge Lombi, strike twice and take the tie to extra-time. And then again, Lombi produces a stunner of a flick leaving the Kiwis stupefied by the developments.

Even as the Kiwis lay sprawled on the ground in disbelief, stunned by the incredible happenings, the Argentines threw themselves into the arms of ecstasy. The object of their adulation was the diminutive, 35 plus, Lombi, whose hat-trick provided the grand finale to the six-nation competition.

Reckoned as the inventor of the ingenuous drag flick in penalty corners, Lombi has been the symbol of Argentina’s destiny in the sport. What mattered was the timing of his exhibition of skill and temperament.

What separated Argentina from the rest despite the trace of inconsistency — the team lost to Belgium 2-3 and struggled against India, which frittered away a dozen penalty corners — was the flair of individualism and a touch of classicism. If Lombi excelled in penalty corners, the goals by Mario Almada and Nicolas Vila were spectacular.

It was the Kiwis who started as the favourites. Inarguably, the most balanced side on view, with a three in a row win they consolidated their position at the top. They looked like sweeping every opposition. Hayden Shaw was their trump card in penalty corners. He was the top scorer. The consistency of work in the midfield headed by the proficient pivot, Ryan Archibald, supported by Phil Burrows and Couzines gave the New Zealanders a sense of authority almost throughout. But the final minutes of the final were devastating.

Inconsistency continues to be the bane of India. The bronze medal is hardly a consolation. Coach Carvalho acknowledged as much. He would have preferred a silver medal, if not gold.

The quality swayed from brilliant to bad. True, the cold and blustery conditions in the early days constricted the free flow leading to a needless 0-2 reverse in the last quarter against New Zealand.

The best for India came from the pivot Bimal Lakra who contributed immensely to keep the frontline going. While Dilip Tirkey laboured in the defence — he was helped well by the matured performance of William Xalco — the frontline oscillated between co-ordination and the lack of it.

The two goals that Tushar Khandekar scored against England in the bronze medal match were bewitching. The seasoned Prabhjot Singh and Rajpal Singh garnered a lot of attention. But it was Sardara Singh who looks to be really improving. He had a lukewarm start but picked up pace as the event moved on.

Predictably, the focus was on the gangling Sandeep Singh for his ability to hit penalty corners. But he was not an unqualified success. His conversion rate was anything but striking at least against Argentina. Maybe, he needs more time to get back into rhythm.

In the end, it was clear that the flaws associated with Indian teams for years continue to haunt the coaches. England had many an embarrassing moment in the first three encounters, but recovered to come in line for the bronze. The team almost denied it to India fighting from 1-4 to 3-4.

Grit and determination, apart from the excellent display of Yamabori in penalty corners, helped Japan take the fifth place after finishing at the bottom of the table. For the host, Belgium, the cellar place was a huge disappointment, especially after beating Argentina and sharing points with New Zealand.

* * * The results

Argentina beat England 4-3; lost to Belgium 2-3; beat Japan 2-0; beat India 2-1; drew New Zealand 3-3; New Zealand beat India 2-0; beat Japan 4-0; beat England 3-1; drew Belgium 3-3; India beat England 3-2; beat

Belgium 4-1; beat Japan 4-3; England beat Japan 4-3; beat Belgium 6-2; Japan

beat Belgium 2-1.

Table of Points: New Zealand 5 (played), 3 (won), 3 (drawn), 0 (lost), 15 (goals scored), 7 (goals against), 11 (points); Argentina 5-3-1-1-13-10-10; India 5-3-0-2-12-10-9; England 5-2-0-3-16-15-6; Belgium 5-1-1-3-10-17-4; Japan 5-1-0- 4-8-15-3.

Placing matches: 5-6: Japan beat Belgium 4-3; (3-4) India beat England 4-3;

Final: Argentina beat New Zealand 3-2 (golden goal by Lombi).

Final positions: 1. Argentina, 2. New Zealand, 3. India, 4. England, 5. Japan,

6. Belgium.

Player of the tournament: Ryan Archibald (New Zealand), Top scorer: Hayden Shaw (New Zealand), Best goal-keeper: Cedric de Grieve (Belgium).