Hockey: Argentina's golden girl sees more victories

Luciana Aymar, the world's finest player, isn't ready to lay down her stick just yet

Lionel Messi comes from Rosario. So does Luciana Aymar.

The world's finest soccer player and finest women's hockey player. Not a bad double for the country's third biggest city, 300km northwest of Buenos Aires.

Occasionally you'll hear an argument putting up Cristiano Ronaldo's claims as a superior player to Messi, but those are diminishing these days. You don't hear any arguments about the brilliant Aymar's top billing.

Being rated world player of the year seven times since 2000 tells its own story. Indeed Aymar beat the incredible Barcelona striker to Argentine sports personality of the year award in 2010.

Aymar is in Tauranga today and tomorrow with the Argentine team, playing a Four Nations tournament with Korea, the United States and New Zealand. Her country's most-capped international, she's won just about every honour there is in the game since making her debut 15 years ago. The one gaping hole is an Olympic gold medal. Argentina were beaten in the final in London last year by the Netherlands. It hurt, and it was her birthday.

"It was difficult for us," she said. "We had a great team but it's a game where many teams are strong.

We played the final against a team who are one of the best in the world."

The Olympics began on a personal high for Aymar, carrying Argentina's flag in the opening ceremony. It said something about the status of women's hockey in the country, and her standing within both the game and the country.

"That was very emotional for me. The most important sport in Argentina is football, but it was important that hockey was the sport that carried the flag and it was a privilege."

Hockey is the most popular women's sport in the country; Aymar is the player the teenagers aspire to follow. Her speed, dribbling skills, ability to slalom her way through defences, eye for a passing angle and allround gifts have earned her nicknames of La Maga (The Magician) and Le Maradona del Hockey, which doesn't need translation. That came at a young age, due to her eye-catching skills.

"I quite liked that," she said. "It was a real honour because obviously he's one of the biggest figures in sport in Argentina."

Aymar, who possessed a highly-driven, competitive personality, has had to change her game to get the best out of herself in recent times.

"I still feel good enough to play [for Argentina] but I have to change the way I play to continue playing at the level expected of me."

Which segues nicely into what the future holds. The Rio Olympics perhaps in three years' time and a final bid for that elusive gold?

A laugh, then "Nooo. Maybe this year, maybe next. I take it day by day and see how I feel."

That said, she remains highly motivated. Those seven crowns might provide a feeling of full accomplishment, but Aymar fancies one more.

"That's very special for me and a real honour. But I still feel each year I want to improve and learn so I can win another one. I'm quite motivated to be the best in the world again. I love hockey, love the training, and have the same emotions to play in the national team as when I was 16 years old."

An occasional model and television personality, once she's finished playing Aymar won't be lost to the game. She wants to put back into the sport which has given her so much through coaching.

•Argentina should beat the US in the early game today at 1pm to advance to tomorrow's final. NZ play Korea at 3pm, a draw being enough to get the hosts into the showdown.

Luciana Aymar

Age: 35

Position: Midfield-striker

Caps: 333

Olympic medals: 4, two silver, two bronze from 2000-12

World Cup: 2 gold medals 2003, 2010

Champions Trophy: 5 gold medals, 2001, 2008-10, 2012

World Player of the Year: 7 times

- NZ Herald

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