Lombi, a world class striker

Published : Aug 18, 2001 00:00 IST


REMARKABLE and memorable in more ways than one, Argentina defied prediction, assessment of track record and even an objective analysis of form, style and science to confound everyone and carry the title in the World Cup qualifier in Edinburgh.

A dotcom pre-tournament survey gave the Argentines a single digit percentage - eight to be precise - placing faith more on Spain, Poland, India and Canada among the 16 in the fray.

But the drama that unfolded for 12 days at the picturesque Sports Centre in Peffermill was fascinating as it was fantastic for the Argentine scoring machine to gravitate into the arms of history and prescribing a definite threat to everyone who will be in Kuala Lumpur next year for the 10th edition of the World Cup.

Like their soccer, that is definitive, distinctive and dynamic, the Argentines have fashioned a delightful dogma for their hockey too. It is based on a blend of individual incandescence and collective ingenuity that proved a too strong a dose for the opposition to digest. The majesty with which the Argentines strode from match one against Bangladesh (8-1) to the final against Spain (5-4) conveyed to everyone the team's authority, adeptness and the aesthetic touch laced with power.

The man to whom Argentina looked up to for the recipe of success was the compactly built Jorge Lombi, whose tournament record of 19 goals perhaps conveys everything minus a detailed description of the despair he proved to be for the opposition. Small wonder then that he picked himself as the favourite for the nomination of the Player of the Tournament. Lethal in penalty corners and lovely to behold in flicking passes, Lombi is now reckoned as world class.

One swallow does not make a summer. And it is true in the case of Argentina. Aside from Lombi, there were two who could rip apart the opposition. Mario Almada and Rodrigo Vilas, wingers both, enhanced the depth and dimension of the frontline attack. Some of the goals that Almada struck, especially the one that put Argentina on the road to victory in the opening minutes of the final against Spain, will be etched on the mind for years. Still under 21, Almada is bound to remain in the higher echelons for long.

Argentina eventually emerged as the only unbeaten team. That it won eight matches in a row, often exuding irrepressible flair and flavour, is a testimony to the style and systematisation which were not palpable when it played in the last Olympics as a substitute squad for South Africa.

Statistically speaking, Argentina finished its first phase in Pool B with a tally of 12 goals to nothing, then in Pool F with an aggregate of 14-6, beat Belgium in the semi-final 2-0 and Spain in the final 5-4, aggregating 33 goals against 10, averaging more than four goals a match! If a flaw needs to be detected, it was found in the defensive phalanx which seemed vulnerable in the closing stages. India managed to pump in three after that superb four-in-a-row by Lombi, and Spain, trailing 5-2, recovered to hit two more to give the title-decider a dramatic final moments. But the indisputable fact is that Argentina towered over everyone in the competition, in almost every facet of the game.

Comparatively, Spain had to labour at every step to move ahead. Notwithstanding the experience of the trio of Juan Escarre, Xavier Arnau (who led the side) and Pol Amat, with the highly skilled youngster Eduard Tabau, assisted by the script prepared by the esteemed coach Tony Forrellat, the Spaniards struggled in phases, at least in the second stage after a sweep of three in the first. Spain drew against Belgium and Canada to share the top spot with five points, but claimed the top place on goal aggregate over Belgium. In the semi-final too, the Poles, who went into the lead first, kept the Spianiards on the run till the first half, which was 1-1. But Spain made a splendid recovery in the second to score four more to establish its identity. Caught in a defensive web of its own making, Spain had to endure quite a lot of barren patches. Jordi Quintana in penalty corners and goal-keeper Benardino Herrera were notabe for their contribution.

Fast, fluent and flexible, the Poles play a brand of hockey that can cause alarm to anyone. No one will acknowledge it more grudingly than the Indians. A third place for them was a true index of their potential, which lay mainly in their penalty corner conversions and opportunistic finishes from players like Tomasz Choczaj and the Mikula brothers, Piotr and Artur. Poland's difficulties in the second phase was palpable after the heavy defeat (2-4) against Argentina and the draw (0-0) against Japan. A win was a must against India, and it was accomplished by the odd goal in three, taking advantage of the poor defence of the rival. However, the Poles cracked against Spain, but managed a convincing 5-2 win for a third place against Belgium.

For the Belgians, Edinburgh was history. They came back into the World Cup stage after eight years, after surviving quite a few suspenseful moments to keep France out of the way. Essentially defensive, the Belgians thrust themselves into the attack on the initiative exhibited by their Belarussian import, Vitali Kholopov, assisted well by skipper Jean Willems. In penalty corners, Joeri Beunen always carried an element of threat. Looking back, the Belgians need to show a debt of gratitude to Bangladesh for not allowing the French to score more than seven goals. If that had happened France would have moved up at the expense of Belgium on goal difference. Understandably, the Belgians lined up near the fence, gave full throated support to the Bangladeshis to defend. Two drawn games and a lone goal by Patrick Gierts, in the closing minutes, ensured Belgium a place in the last four.

"Is this the best you have?" The question was asked by none other than the Tournament Director Roger Self, a staunch admirer of Indian hockey, after the opening day. The inability to penetrate the defence wall of Wales in the first match prompted many to conclude that India was weak, without a distinguished player and fatigued by the long tours before the competition. The reverse against the Kiwis exposed the incompetence in finishing. The threat of failing to make it to stage two loomed large on the horizon. Egypt was conquered to slip into the second stage, but not before two brilliant saves by Jude Menezes kept the team in the fight for the second half revival.

Flummoxed by Lombi's firing from penalty corners in the contest against Argentina and nervous goal-keeping by Devesh Chauhan against Poland, India again tumbled into the valley of despair. A must-win situation provided its own quota of depression and anxieties before a hard fought win (2-1) against Canada brought tears of joy to Indian supporters, many of whom had travelled all the way from London to cheer the team. Ensured of a place (as the fifth) in the seven spots, India managed to save the humiliation of a defeat or draw against Japan in the concluding fixture.

A close study of the sequence to the qualification will show a surprising measure of inconsistency, lack of strength in the mid-field, poor defence and some appalling goal-keeping. With so many deficiencies surfacing at the same time, it was sheer providence that India is in the World Cup reckoning now. Experimenting with youngsters was a big gamble which almost burst into a catastrophe. Minus Bimal Lakra in the mid-field, none in the 18 showed the ability to withstand pressure and the team gave the impression of being unsettled almost throughout.

Conspicous in the frontline was Baljit Singh Dhillon, chiefly as the prompter, but the rest were unpredictable. Neither Prabhjot Singh nor Daljit Singh Dhillon rose to the expectations and others like Gagan Ajit Singh, Samir Dad and Brojen Singh raised eyebrows over their selection itself. Rathakrishnan and Parminder Singh in the mid-field too were not quality stuff to this grade of competition. As for Kanwalpreet Singh, he has to wait for some more time to be elevated to the national first XI. The injury to Lazarus Barla genuinely affected the work in the defence, putting enormous pressure on Dilip Tirkey and, of course, on the goal-keepers, Jude Menezes and Chauhan, neither of whom displayed the level of consistency needed in an event of this magnitude.

A crafty coach like Cedric D'Souza and more so, the administration, must draw the right lessons in figuring out the next step. An overhaul is a must, and putting up brave defences to what occurred in Edinburgh will only lead to the path of ruin. If anything, the qualifier was a warning that cannot be ignored.

Japan qualified for the World Cup after 28 years (last appearance was in 1973 in Amstelveen), pushing New Zealand and Canada to fight for the last spot. Fashioning their approach work on that of the successful South Koreans, the Japanese not only troubled seasoned outfits but have clearly emerged as the third major threat, aside from South Korea and Pakistan, to India. The speed of Tobita and the skill of Yamabori in penalty corners are the team's strengths.

Hardworking and without any frills, the Kiwis, who came in as a replacement for Zimbabwe, registered themselves at the seventh and the last spot, beating Canada on the concluding day. Coach Kevin Towns must be congratulated for working out some brilliant set pieces for penalty corners and the manner in which Ryan Archibald and Philip Burrows executed them. They played Canada twice and on both occasions the Kiwis won by handsome margins.

Despite the good work under the bar by Mike Mahood, the Canadians failed to find a place. Their mid-field work, usually the essence of their strength, was a let-down. But individually Sean Campbell, Rob Short, who also scored a hat-trick, Ronnie Jagday and Bindi Khuller were prominent in every encounter. Added to their woes was the theft of the valuables in the Canadian dressing room while the team was playing the Indians. Quite a few lost their credit cards, wallets and one, Ravi Kalhon, the sentimental Khada (wrist bracelet) presented by his grandfather. It was a journey that the Canadian team would like to forget fast.

Among the rest, there was a lot of sympathy for Scotland for failing to qualify for the World Cup and also the Commonwealth Games. At the start, the FIH had stipulated that whoever between Scotland and Wales finished on top would be in Manchester next year. Wales finished 10th while the home team managed only the 11th, that too after a great duel with Chile that went into tie-breaker. Laurence Docherty was Scotland's hero with a tally of six goals.

Of the four South American sides, only Argentina made it to the World Cup, though both United States and Chile made a good impression through their work. For instance, Felipe Montegu of Chile came off successful in almost all the matches. That two more Asian outfits in India and Japan will figure aside from Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia in the World Cup is indeed happy tidings. Significantly, out of the seven European entries in Edinburgh only three, Spain, Poland and Belgium, will be in Kuala Lumpur.

With an experienced and committed official like Roger Self at the helm, the schedules were carried out with professional efficiency. The 16-team four-pool format was not an easy exercise, but the officials met the challenge with confidence and fortitude. But in one perspective, the organising unit see this system as an impediment to spectator response, increased financial inputs because of the enlarged team of officials and umpires and the need to stretch it beyond the stipulated 12 days. That the FIH Executive Board has now reverted to the two-pool system for the major tournaments ahead, it will be interesting to see how this will serve the globalisation programme.

It is difficult to refrain from commending the touch of professionalism in creating the infrastructure and administration for the event by the Scottish Hockey Union, headed by the affable Gerry Ralph. Shortcomings there were, like the initial failure of the communication system for the media, but everything was attended to with care and concern to remove even a trace of bitterness. The theft in the dressing room may be a blot, but one cannot but commiserate with the Scots that their team, despite the vast resources spent on preparation and organisation, has missed the boat both for the World Cup and Commonwealth Games. For the genuine lover of Scottish hockey, the drama at Peffermill had all the intensity of a Greek tragedy.

The results:

First stage - Pool A: New Zealand beat Egypt 3-1; beat India 1-0; beat Wales 1-0; India beat Wales 1-0; beat Egypt 3-1; Wales beat Egypt 3-2. Pool standings: New Zealand Played 3, won 3, lost 0, drawn 0, goals for 5, goals against 1, points 9; India 3-2-1-5-3-6; Wales 3-1-2-0-4-5-3; Egypt 3-0-3-0-4-9-0.

Pool B: Argentina beat Bangladesh 8-1; beat Belgium 2-1; beat France 2-1; Belgium beat Bangladesh 5-0; drew France 1-1; France beat Bangladesh 5-2. Pool standings: Argentina 3-3-0-0-12-3-9; Belgium 3-1-1-1-7-3-4; France 3-1-1-1-7-5-4; Bangladesh 3-0-3-0-3-18.

Pool C: Spain beat Chile 9-0; beat Japan 2-1; beat Scotland 2-0; Japan beat Chile 4-0; beat Scotland 2-1; Scotland beat Chile 5-1. Pool standings: Spain 3-3-0-0-16-0-9; Japan 3-2-1-0-6-6-6; Scotland 3-1-2-0-6-5-3; Chile 3-0-3-0-1-18.

Pool D: Poland beat Canada 2-1; beat Russia 3-1; beat United States 5-1; Canada beat Russia 3-1; beat United States 4-2; United States beat Russia 1-0. Pool standings: Poland 3-3-0-0-10-3-9; Canada 3-2-1-0-8-5-6; United States 3-1-2-0-4-9-3; Russia 3-0-3-0-2-7-0.

Second stage - Pool E: Spain drew Belgium 1-1; drew Canada 1-1; beat New Zealand 2-1; Belgium beat Canada 1-0; drew New Zealand 1-1; New Zealand beat Canada 5-3. Pool standings: Spain 3-1-0-2-5-3; Belgium 3-1-0-2-3-2-5; New Zealand 3-1-1-1-7-7-4; Canada 3-0-2-1-4-7-1.

Pool F: Argentina beat India 5-3; beat Japan 5-2; beat Poland 4-2; Poland drew Japan 0-0; beat India 2-1; India beat Japan 2-0. Pool standings: Argentina 3-3-0-0-14-6-9; Poland 3-1-1-1-3-5-4; India 3-1-2-0-6-7-3; Japan 3-0-2-1-2-7-1.

Pool G: Wales beat Bangladesh 1-0; drew Russia 2-2; beat Scotland 1-0; Scotland beat Bangladesh 7-0; beat Russia 1-0; Russia beat Bangladesh 5-0. Pool standings: Wales 3-2-0-1-4-2-7; Scotland 3-2-1-0-10-1-6; Russia 3-1-1-1-7-5-4; Bangladesh 3-0-3-0-0-13-0.

Pool H: France drew Chile 2-2; beat Egypt 3-1; beat United States 2-1; Chile drew Egypt 3-3; beat United States 2-1; Egypt beat United States 2-1. Pool standings: France 3-2-0-1-7-4-7; Chile 3-1-0-2-7-6-5; Egypt 3-1-1-1-6-7-4; United States 3-0-3-0-3-6-0.

Classification matches: (13-16): United States beat Russia 3-2; Egypt beat Bangladesh 2-1; (15-16): Russia beat Bangladesh 4-2; (13-14): Egypt beat United States 2-1; (9-12): Wales beat Chile 3-2; Scotland beat France 3-3 (5-4 in tie breaker); (11-12): Scotland beat Chile 4-4 (golden goal 5-4); (9-10): France beat Wales 2-1; (5-8): India beat Canada 2-1; Japan beat New Zealand 1-0 (golden goal); (5-6): India beat Japan 4-3; (7-8); New Zealand beat Canada 4-0; (1-4): Semi-finals: Spain beat Poland 5-1; Argentina beat Belgium 4-2; (3-4): Poland beat Belgium 5-2. Final: Argentina beat Spain 5-4.

Final placings: 1. Argentina; 2. Spain; 3. Poland; 4. Belgium; 5. India; 6. Japan; 7. New Zealand; 8. Canada; 9. France; 10. Wales; 11. Scotland; 12. Chile; 13. Egypt; 14. United States; 15. Russia; 16. Bangladesh.

Special awards: Player of the tournament: Jorge Lombi (Argentina); Best goal-keeper: Bernandiro Harrera (Spain); Young player: Laurance Docherty (Scotland); Top scorer: Jorge Lombi (Argentina, 19 goals).


ETIENNE GLICHITCH, former President of the International Hockey Federation, once observed that penalty corner gives the sport a unique character. No other feature in competitive hockey is more discussed and debated, for well over 30 years now. Simply because the penalty corner today is the most decisive factor in determining the winner. Small wonder, leading nations in the world pay more than usual attention to this area; coaches spending hours in working out the set pieces and fashioning men and women to perfect that art of scoring.

Whether on natural grass or on artificial surface, the penalty corner has emerged as the main weapon for any team. If it was India's Prithipal Singh in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, then it was Tanvir Dar of Pakistan later, leading to a succession of men like Khalid Basheer in the late Eighties and now that world class striker, Sohail Abbas.

If that is the Asian scenario, the panorama in Europe is far more vast with outstanding men and women emerging in the role of penalty corner specialists.

Led by that incomparable Netherlands duo, Paul Litjens and Thies Kruize, who were succeeded by Floris Bovelander and Bram Lomans with outstanding performances, specialists now abound at even club levels. Jay Stacy of Australia, Calum Giles of England and Bjorn Michel of Germany have contributed their mite too in charting out victories at important competitions.

Joining this illustrious company as a world class striker now is Jorge Lombi, the Argentine veteran. His haul of 19 goals in eight matches in the World Cup qualifier in Edinburgh is a high watermark of his brilliant career. Unlike many hitters, who were all defenders, Lombi is a linkman whose speed and thrust can put to shade a renowed attacker. With over 180 caps, Lombi can be portrayed as a pefectionist if the sequence of his scoring in Edinburgh is any indication.

Unlike the leading strikers, Lombi turns up for a combination that is still to be reckoned as a world power in the same vein as The Netherlands, Pakistan or Germany. That Argentina failed to make it to the last World Cup at Utrecht perhaps is an indication of its failure to be in the world power equations. Also is the fact that Argentina did not qualify for the five top spots at the last pre-Olympic competition in Osaka where too Lombi played a remarkable role in penalty corners, hitting in 10 behind Sohail Abbas of Pakistan who scored 13.

Born on November 1, 1971, Lombi began wielding the stick from the age of seven for Ciudad de Buenos Aires. In a country where the first astro turf was not laid till the middle of the Nineties, his growth as a lethal striker is phenomenal. At the La Salle College in Buenos Aires, Lombi perfected the precision in execution. Coached by Aldo Ayala, he crafted a style of his own and claims to be the inventor of the drag flick.

Compactly built, yet powerful enough to bewilder the most experienced of goal-keepers, Lombi plays the penalty corner with a rare panache. It is not the mere power that pulversises the goal-keepers; it is the angle, the trajectory and the varying velocity that bemuse the men under the bar. Invariably, Lombi flicks the ball to the roof of the net. As the push is stopped, he waits for a split second for the goal-keeper to come into motion, weighs the angles and the area of opening and then slams it bang into the net. All these in less than two to three seconds!

That he has emerged the top scorer in even competitions like the Olympics where Argentina finishes nine or 10 shows that there is something very special to Lombi's style of execution and success rate. He was in fact the top scorer with 13 goals at the Sydney Olympics where Argentina finished eighth, next to India. In the Pan American Games at Mar del Plata, Lombi totalled 10 goals to be the top scorer. It must be mentioned here that Argentina came in as a replacement to South Africa to the Sydney Olympics. He played a leading role in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. An unofficial statistics places Lombi among those who have scored more than 500 goals in competitive hockey. For Argentina alone in the internationals, Lombi has scored 203 goals.

Lombi's skill as a striker has attracted worldwide attention for quite sometime. Else, he would not be today flooded with offers from clubs in Europe. He is looking forward to playing in The Netherlands this year for the famous Klein Switzerland along with his colleague Maximilano Caldas. "I really enjoy playing in the Netherlands because, in my opinion, they have the best team, and they are very good, and play fair... I've played several times with India and I am still amazed by their individual technique. They are fantastic. And each time we play, the match turns dramatic with goals and interesting attacks on both sides," he said. Lombi speaks English, haltingly though, but, understandably, is quite voluble and fluent in Spanish. He is a votary of professionalism in hockey and agrees with the increasing trend of clubs hiring foreign players as in soccer.

Lombi may not be a Maradona in Buenos Aires, but to the hockey fraternity, small though in number, he is admired, feared and respected as that great footballer is. And that is the satisfaction that drives Lombi to achieve something more every time he steps on to the pitch.

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