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Argentina & Belgium reach first men's field hockey final

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " Argentina and Belgium gatecrashed the Olympic field hockey festival and reached their first men's final together on Tuesday.

Nobody saw them coming.

Not Germany, the defending two-time champion, which was humiliated by a record 5-2 by the Argentines.

And not the Netherlands, which had never lost to its Belgian neighbor in major competition, but saw that 80-year streak terminated 3-1.

"This is crazy," said Argentina midfielder Lucas Rey, who could have also spoken for Belgium. "We knew we could do this, but it's still crazy."

Before the final on Thursday, Germany and the Netherlands, the finalists in London, will play for bronze.

Even its own deliriously happy supporters couldn't believe Argentina made its first major final.

For two decades, their women's team, Las Leonas, the Lionesses, have racked up major honors, including medals at the last four Olympics. But they lost their quarterfinal late Monday, and 14 hours later, from out of their considerable shadow, Los Leones, the Lions, came of age by ending the reign of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion.

It wasn't even close.

Argentina scored off its first three penalty corners, all struck by Gonzalo Peillat on the stick side of Germany goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi, in the first half. Germany, featuring six players from 2012, was restricted to two shots in the whole half.

After the interval, Joaquin Menini and Lucas Vila extended the lead to 5-0 with less than a quarter left. That's when Germany replaced its goalie for an extra forward to try and limit the roasting.

The Germans had enjoyed a streak of luck by scoring in the last 8 seconds of three games, including forcing a 4-4 draw with Argentina in pool play last Thursday. But even though they came back furiously with a penalty stroke goal by captain Moritz Furste, who failed on all five of his penalty corners, and a Christopher Ruhr goal, there was no chance of another miracle comeback.

As the score mounted, Menini said their prime thought was not, "We're smashing Germany by a record score," but more, "Don't lose this."

"Every time we started from the middle line, we said the score was zero-zero, that we had to keep on playing, keep on defending," Menini added.

Paillet, the expert drag-flicker who has converted a remarkable 10 of his 36 chances in these games, said, "Germany always plays to the last seconds. We couldn't stop and congratulate ourselves."

Not until the last minute did Argentina coach Carlos Retegui, responsible for many of the women's triumphs, finally accept he'd masterminded the men's greatest success yet, and began hugging his assistants. Seconds later, the players were embracing and group hopping all over the Olympic Hockey Stadium, too, roared on by hundreds of fans.

Like Argentina, the Belgians are a veteran team, even more so. They contain a staggering amount of experience; two players with more than 300 caps, another five with over 200. Intense preparation, deep self-belief and suddenly finding their groove swept them into their first Olympic medal match in 88 years, and they received one last boost before playing the mighty Dutch.

The PA system broke down, so the national anthems couldn't be played. The Dutch fans, unprompted, spurred their team to start singing, then the Belgium team went a capella, loudly, with their fans echoing them.

"It was a goosebump moment," forward Thomas Briels said.

They never let the Dutch get in a rhythm.

Tom Boon hit in a rebound of his own penalty corner attempt, then captain John-John Dohmen knocked in a great pass from Cedric Charlier and it was 2-0 seconds out from halftime. There was time for Netherlands short corner expert Mink van der Weerden to punch in his ninth goal but if the Dutch thought at halftime they were back in it, they were mistaken.

Belgium continued to cut through midfield, set up chances, while strangling the favorites. Charlier set up Florent van Aubel to start the last quarter, and the defense smothered a frustrated Netherlands to the end.

Boon said, "It's unbelievable we were better than them. We showed good hockey, good maturity, a team fighting for each other. We showed our Belgian hearts."

"We," Dohmen added, "are having the tournament of our lives."

Belgium and Argentina barely have a history in major events. They've met in recent World League Finals, but not in an Olympic Games for 40 years.

Boon didn't care. Having finally conquered their neighbor on the greatest stage, he didn't rate Argentina.

"We can beat Argentina, for sure," he said. "We have an unbelievable team. I don't think anyone is going to stop us."

The women's semifinals on Wednesday are Netherlands vs. Germany, New Zealand vs. Britain.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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