Hockey World Cup: Argentina bank on Gonzalo Peillat to overcome confident New Zealand
With both reigning Olympic champion Argentina and Commonwealth Games silver medallists New Zealand registering victory in their opening matches of Pool A, the focus has now shifted to who will top the group and make it directly to the quarterfinals. The second and third-placed teams in the pool will have to take the route of crossover games to qualify for the top eight.
Argentina, who are currently world No 2, had a tough time in beating Spain 4-3. The course of the match veered their way following the exploits of ace drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat, who contributed two goals. In Monday’s match against New Zealand, Peillat will again be looked upon to play a crucial role. His superb penalty-corner conversion rate testifies to his credentials of currently being the deadliest drag-flicker in the world.
“As we are the Olympic champions, whenever we take the field there is pressure of expectations on us. In our opening match against Spain there were some gaps. Hopefully, we wouldn’t repeat them in the coming matches of the World Cup,” said Argentinia striker Agustin Mazzilli, 29, who scored the other two goals against Spain.
“Gonzalo Peillat is the best drag-flicker of the world and we are depending upon him a lot. The forwards will create chances for the penalty corner and then we have Peillat to show the result on the score board,” he added.
Argentina is the oldest team here with an average age of 30 years. Their strength is that most of the players in the current squad are from the 2014 World Cup, where they won bronze, and the 2016 Rio Olympics gold-medal winning squad. “Experience is our main strength and this will help us a lot in the course of the World Cup,” said Mazilli, who was part of the previous World Cup squad as well as the side that triumphed at Rio.
Though the difference in world rankings --- New Zealand are ranked number nine --- makes the South American nation favourites to start with, the Black Sticks, who beat France 2-1 in their opening game, are unlikely to be pushovers. They gave a tough fight to world No 1 and World Cup winners Australia before losing 1-2 in the final of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“We had good preparations before coming to Bhubaneswar and the win in the first match has set the momentum,” said New Zealand forward Jared Panchia. “In the previous edition of the World Cup, we were placed seventh. This time we are hoping to make the cut for the top-four slot. So, we are confident of a good result against Argentina.”
Monday’s second match will be between Spain and France. The way Spain restricted Argentina in their opening game, the match against France will not be a big issue for them.