SPORTS

Middleton scores twice, and Britain rolls past Argentina 4-1 in Olympic field hockey

07/30/2012 04:41 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - The teams from Britain and Argentina walked to midfield side-by-side a few minutes before their match, stood for each other's national anthems, then exchanged handshakes.

Political tension was nowhere to be found the opening day of the men's field hockey tournament at the London Games.

Barry Middleton scored two goals and Britain netted four before Argentina pulled back a late consolation penalty corner on Monday.

The match was played with no hint of the long-simmering political issues between the nations — brought to the forefront this year through commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Dan Fox also scored for Britain, as did Richard Smith, who was the first to extend his hand toward an Argentine player before the match, greeting Gonzalo Peillat as the teams headed out for the traditional pregame ceremony.

Once the game started, it was all about gritty play, no statements, no politics.

"Just trying to play the game hard — nothing else," said Britain coach Jason Lee.

Middleton opened the scoring with 13:27 left in the first half, knocking in a rebound off a penalty corner. His second goal came early in the second half, squirting through traffic and past Argentina goalie Juan Manuel Vivaldi as virtually everyone in the jampacked Riverbank Arena roared with pride. Fox had the third goal and Smith scored off a corner with 18 minutes left to make it 4-0.

Pedro Ibarra scored for Argentina. A few fans waved the South American nation's flag, though it was predictably a massive home-field advantage for the British, and they made the most of it.

When asked about the level of physicality, especially in the opening minutes, British veteran Alastair Wilson shrugged it off as what comes with the territory when chasing Olympic gold.

"It's going to be the same in all the games," Wilson said. "Everyone's so desperate to win. Everyone's fighting for every loose ball."

The 74-day war started when Argentina invaded the Falklands in April 1982. In all, 907 people were killed — 649 Argentines, 255 British and three islanders.

While the conflict was brief, the tension remains, at least on some levels.

Earlier this year, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez urged Britain to concede sovereignty of the islands, known to Latin Americans as "Las Malvinas." Britain has controlled the Falklands since 1833, and residents of the islands — roughly the size of Connecticut — have overwhelmingly said they want things to remain that way.

And sport has not been immune from the matter, either.

In February, soccer's governing body FIFA asked Argentina to explain reports that a top-tier division was to be named after 'Crucero General Belgrano,' which was a naval ship torpedoed by a British submarine during the Falklands conflict. And when England was bidding to host the 2018 World Cup — Russia eventually won — the head of Argentina's Football Association joked about how he would support the bid only if Britain ceded control of the islands.

But on the blue field hockey pitch, there were few feisty moments on Monday night.

Britain's Nicholas Catlin picked up a green card after a bit of shoving late in the first half, and Ibarra writhed in pain for a few moments after getting barged over just before half time. Otherwise, it was just typical skirmishes, and the intensity clearly dropped once the British ran out to their 4-0 lead.

At the end, the teams left as they arrived. More handshakes, and nothing else.

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Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

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