Argentina’s Rugby Sevens team has delivered the country’s first medal of Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after defeating Great Britain in the event’s third-place play-off.
The Pumas secured a bronze medal with the victory, which came just hours after the side had lost 26-14 to Fiji, Olympics Champions five years ago in Brazil, in a semi-final clash. It also paid back Britain, who had defeated Argentina in the Rio 2016 quarters.
"To win the first medal for the country is a great source of pride. Before the game we told ourselves that we were going to play for something bigger. We played for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for a giant country," said Rodrigo Etchart, one of Los Pumas medalists, after the match.
The third-place play-off opened at a rip-roaring pace, with Argentina falling behind early. Ben Harris crossed the line within 40 seconds for Britain for a try, before Pumas scrum-half Lautaro Bazán Vélez responded with a cheeky snip down the blindside.
One of the tournament's standout players, the Pumas’ Marcos 'Rayo' Moneta – a Youth Olympic Games gold medallist – added a second and his sixth of the tournament, with Santiago Mare converting to make it 12-7 at half-time.
Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Ignacio Mendy then swapped scores before British captain Dan Libby was caught in possession and the whistle was blown, leaving Los Pumas delighted.
Moneta, just 21, finished the tournament as top scorer. He called the bronze-medal showing "a dream come true. It was what we were looking for, to get on the podium. We are really happy to get the bronze medal. I can’t describe how we’re feeling, it’s crazy."
He added: "You saw on Tuesday [in the 19-14 victory in the quarter-final against South Africa, in which Los Pumas finished with just five players on the field) what this team is like and we showed it again today. We are very happy."
Argentina had to play twice on the same day to seal bronze after their 26-14 semi-final loss to Fiji a few hours earlier.
The reigning champions took a 12-0 lead in the first half, but the Pumas came back with two tries from Moneta and another Ignacio Mendy, adding conversions to lead 14-12 at the break.
The Fijians, however, responded strongly in the second half, scoring two tries and conversions to come out on top 26-14.
Fiji takes title
After seeing off Argentina, Fiji went on to defend their Olympic rugby sevens title with an entertaining 27-12 victory over New Zealand at the Tokyo Stadium on Wednesday.
The elated Fijians burst into a cappella hymns that boomed around the stadium to celebrate just the second ever Olympic medal for the nation of 890,000 people scattered around more than 330 Pacific islands.
Fiji skipper Jerry Tuwai said there had been "a lot of expectation. Every Fijian wants only the win. It's a good day for Fiji today. They won't be thinking about the pandemic now, they'll be celebrating the gold medal!"
Fiji's Welsh coach Gareth Baber hailed the "resilience of the group dealing with whatever has been thrown our way" after spending five months away from their families as coronavirus restrictions took hold throughout Oceania.
"It's been a really strange year, particularly the last six months," Baber said. "We were locked down in Fiji, then we went to Australia where we were in quarantine.
"It takes a special kind of person to make that commitment," the former scrum-half said, joking that there had been almost daily references to the win in the Rio Olympics, when Fiji were coached by Englishman Ben Ryan.
The Fijians, superbly marshalled by the omnipresent Tuwai, were quick to pile the pressure on New Zealand, a robust defence the cornerstone of their all-encompassing game.
They took the lead when a smart offload after Maqala stripped Joe Webber of the ball found Meli Derenalagi, who stretched his large frame to cross in the corner.
When an under-pressure Andrew Knewstubb failed to ground a tentative grubber over the Kiwi line, Maqala was on hand to pounce on the loose ball for a second try converted by Napolioni Bolaca.
But Scott Curry, instrumental to New Zealand's run to the final, showed a surprising turn of pace to run one back in for the men in black, who have 12 sevens world series titles to their name.
Fiji fired straight back, the jinking Jiuta Wainiqolo riding a Knewstubb tackle and swerving away to race in for the Islanders' third try, Bolaca hitting the extras.
Sione Molia clawed one back for New Zealand to keep them in the game, doing well to battle his way out of an attempted Tuwai wrap-around and skip away, Fiji up 19-12 at half-time.
The second half, however, was all Fiji. Molia was hand to produce a try-saving tackle under relentless pressure.
But befitting a team who play rugby sevens, according to coach Baber, as uniquely as Australian cricketers of the 1990s and the vaunted Brazilian football team of the 1970s, the ball was swiftly and confidently moved to the other wing for Asaeli Tuivuaka to dot down for a simple, decisive try.
A late penalty in the Kiwi 22m area saw Fiji opt to run down time to the hooter, Waisea Naqulu hitting a penalty for the final word in front of empty stands at a baking Tokyo Stadium.
New Zealand's Curry added: "It's pretty disappointing to take it this far and not to win. We went into that game with a lot of confidence that we could get gold. We had our opportunities out there. Credit to Fiji, they took theirs, and we didn't."
New Zealand outmuscled Britain 29-7 in the other last-four clash.