Argentina beat Belgium 4-2 to claim the Olympic title on Thursday and win their country’s first Games medal in men’s hockey, edging a close-fought match between two teams few expected to make the final.
Long playing in the shadow of a much-celebrated women’s team, Argentina’s men will leave Rio with their first Olympic hockey medal.
Belgium’s sliver was their best finish at the Games in 96 years. They last took home bronze in Antwerp in 1920.
Both teams had beaten the odds in Rio to make their first Olympic final. Belgium eliminated world number two the Netherlands 3-1 on Tuesday, hours before Argentina routed defending champions Germany 5-2.
The Germans were reduced to scrapping it out for third place against the Dutch ahead of the final, with twice gold medallists Germany claiming the bronze after winning a penalty shootout 4-3 following a tense 1-1 draw at full time.
Belgium’s potent attacking game was evident from the start, building on a strong performance in the group stages where they racked up 21 goals, more than any other team in the tournament.
With less than two minutes gone, Tanguy Cosyns deflected a strike from the top of circle to claim an early lead for the men in red. But the Argentine Lions roared back, scoring from two penalty corners and netting a third before halftime.
As storm clouds gathered, the intensity waned after the break, with neither team able to land a shot before Belgium’s Gauthier Boccard put the ball into the bottom-left corner.
Belgium failed to score from two successive penalty corners deep in the fourth quarter. On the back foot, they swapped their goalkeeper for an extra man to chase a last-minute equaliser which never came.
With eight seconds left on the clock, an interception allowed Argentina’s Agustin Mazzilli to seal the win in style, walking the ball into an open Belgium goal.
At a tournament which has struggled to fill seats in Rio and had its place on the Olympic programme questioned by Games organisers, the gold medal showdown drew a sell-out and boisterous crowd at the Olympic Hockey Centre.
Argentine supporters lined the stands in blue and white, erupting in song as the final whistle blew and stripping off their shirts to cheer their victorious countrymen.