There wouldn’t be two players in world hockey at the moment who are more different in terms of their style than Gonzalo Peillat and Enrique Gonzalez. The former is a brawny defender who almost single-handedly gets Argentina past the finish line almost every time they take the field. The latter is a slight, nimble-footed Spaniard midfielder who weaves patterns around the defenders with his remarkable dodging skills.
Gonzalez nearly had the last laugh. But his inability to tap the ball home inches from the goalmouth in the final play of the match cost Spain a point. Instead, it was Peillat who once again made the difference. After an end-to-end first three quarters, his fierce drag-flick in the 49th minute gave Argentina a 4-3 win in their opening match of the tournament. The hard-fought win puts them in comfortable position to top the group and directly qualify for the quarterfinals, saving themselves of an extra match – a tricky crossover tie against the third-placed team of Pool B.
After two lightweight encounters on the opening day, the Argentina-Spain tie lived up to its billing. It was a mental match, one that saw five goals in the first 15 minutes. Spain, who play rather conservatively in the midfield, started on the front foot from the first whistle, which seemed to have caught Argentina off guard.
“It (Spain’s aggression) came as a surprise, yes. But we were making too many errors inside our ‘D’. That is something we will need to improve going forward. Today, we survived,” Argentina coach German Orozco said after the match.
Their quick, creative play induced mistakes from the Argentine defenders inside their ‘D’. That led to the first goal in the third minute after Gonzalez, Alvaro Iglesias and Visec Ruiz worked their way inside the semicircle; their quick inter-play forcing an error from veteran defender Juan Gilardi. Gonzalez capitalized on it and scored the opening goal.
The Olympic champions, though, responded immediately. A minute after Spain took the lead, Juan Lopez drove a ball inside the Spanish ‘D’, which missed everyone in front of the goal to find Agustin Mazzilli on the far post. His powerful shot was too much for Spanish goalkeeper Quico Cortes to save.
With both defences looking shaky, there were bound to be more goals in the tie but the match exploded to life towards the end of the first quarter, when three goals were scored in a span of two minutes. Josep Romeu put Spain ahead from a penalty corner but Mazzilli equalized immediately after restart. Then, seconds before the quarter-break, Peillat struck a fierce drag-flick which snuck in-between Cortes’s legs and found the hard-board.
After a goalless second quarter, Spain equalized through Vincenc Ruiz’s powerful shot in the 35th minute. But Peillat, the top scorer of 2014 World Cup, was once again there to save Argentina the blushes. Most teams enter a match against Argentina with just one strategy – avoid conceding penalty corners. Spain paid for gifting their opponents two corners at crucial junctures in the match, and were punished on both occasions.
Peillat scored his second in the 49th minute to give Argentina a 4-3 lead and they hung on to it by a whisker.
It would have been a different story had Gonzalez, who ran the show in the midfield, connected cleanly. But his wild swing seconds from the final whistle meant that Spain, for all their attacking display, begin their campaign with a defeat.