Filling in the big goalkeeping shoes of illustrious Juan Vivaldi, who had called time on his playing career after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics must have been a big focus area for Argentinian men’s hockey team coach Mariano Ranconi. Tomas Santiago has been serving as an understudy to Vivaldi for a long period of time, and seems to have stepped into huge shoes of Vivaldi like a duck to water.
The 29-year-old injects calmness in the Argentinian citadel and one saw how he frustrated Belgium and England in their first two double-headers. Santiago did his reputation a world of good churning out three saves to help the Los Leonas outduel India 3-1 in the shootout after India snatched the equaliser in the dying seconds of play and deny the hosts a bonus point.
The Mariano Ranconi-coached world number six side showed they did their homework well after their uninspiring 1-3 defeat to India at the Tokyo Olympics. Argentina minus the retired trio of Juan Vivaldi, Pedro Ibarra and Maria Lopez – instilled discipline from the outset and did not allow India to play their natural game. The Blueshirts did not have any serious attempt at the Argentinian goal in the opening quarter, as Argentina dictated possession with sleek passing play.
Under the captaincy debut of Amit Rohidas, brave goalkeeping by Krishan Pathak kept India in the contest – he pulled off a brilliant save off Martin Ferreiro – and later went on to deny Nicolas Della Torre from scoring off their first short corner. India came out the shell in the second quarter and moved forward with purpose – Mandeep Singh and Sukhjeet Singh made forays, but the Argentinian defence were equal to the task. India disappointed with all their five penalty corners – ever-reliable Harmanpreet Singh found the going tough as Argentina kept blunting them with outstanding first-rusher defending through Thomas Habif.
A goalless first half created a strong need for both teams to up the ante – almost against the Argentinian possessional dominance, comeback lad Gurjant Singh tapped home off a fabulous Jugraj Singh slap pass from the right even as his marker Nicolas Della Torre watched helplessly. The South American fightback story was scripted by their captain Matias Rey – he set up Nicolas Acosta who banged home nonchalantly. Gurjant later must have realized how hockey can be a great leveller as he messed up in the shootout.
Well-executed indirect short corner goals are always a visual treat – Nicolas Keenan scored a beauty after drag-flicker Nicolas Della Torre instead of unleashing the drag-flick relayed it to Keenan, who outsmarted PR Sreejesh. Argentina were running down the clock by taking their own sweet time to play the ball around, but India took refuge in a brilliant move by Sukhjeet Singh that was slotted home by Mandeep Singh on his debut as India vice-captain. Both teams would now strive to force a result in regulation time in the second leg tie on Sunday.