Buenos Aires: Argentines at the top of their sport are called "Maradona" by compatriots. Without doubt, Luciana Aymar is the Diego Maradona of women's hockey.   

The woman whom coach Carlos Retegui calls the world's best hockey player, and compares to Argentina's greatest soccer son, hopes to lead the world champions to their first hockey Olympic gold medal at the London Games this summer.   

Describing the lithe, brown-eyed brunette, Retegui says:  "Luciana is a normal human being, like all of us, (but) on the pitch (she) is magical and extra-terrestrial."   

In an interview with Reuters, Retegui recalls a phrase famous in Argentina since it was coined for Maradona by a television commentator at the soccer World Cup in Mexico in 1986.   

"'Cosmic kite, what planet did you come from?', that phrase fits 'Lucha' perfectly because she plays better and better, she thrills the crowd, she moves them," he said.   

"I'm proud and pleased to be one of her trainers."   

Retegui says the 34-year-old can play on beyond the London Games. "Until she assumes the role of motherhood she can play as long as she wants, she's touched by a magic wand."   

Retegui, a former defender and then coach of the Argentine men's team before taking charge of Las Leonas (The Lionesses) in 2009, is protective of his outstanding player.   

"Very few human beings in the world have that gift for playing hockey... A lot of the time we make demands from them off the pitch and we don't realise they're normal people, who suffer, who have feelings, who have good times and bad times," he said.   

Aymar, a seven-times World Player of the Year who helped Argentina win silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze in Athens and Beijing at the last two Games, would love to crown her career with the gold medal.   

"Now I'm very relaxed, training, we've just resumed practice and, well, (I am) hoping to play another Olympic Games and in the best possible way and we want to win the gold medal but it's not easy," Aymar told Reuters.   

She reeled off the names of Argentina's main rivals including the top-ranked Netherlands, Germany, China, South Korea and Olympic hosts Britain, whom they have already met twice this year.   

Home Pressure   

Britain won a four-team tournament in Cordoba in January and then lost the Champions Trophy final 1-0 to the hosts in Rosario a month ago.   

"I think (Britain) are one of the best teams in the world, but I think that also, playing in Argentina with all the (Argentine) fans made it a bit hard for them," Aymar said.   

"They're not used to playing with so many people so that was good for us, always to play in Argentina in a plus (for us)," she added, no doubt hoping that the weight of expectation in London might be too much for the British team.   

Argentina's fourth Champions Trophy victory in five years and fifth overall helped them overcome the bitter disappointment of losing their Pan-American Games title in Guadalajara, Mexico last year, when they lost the final 4-2 to the United States.   

"It's a tournament that can surprise you because you play it very calmly but when you get to the final it's a top level match, like at a World Cup or Champions Trophy.   

"You have to be very careful not to get up that very day on the wrong side of bed and it that day just happened not to be our best day," Aymar said.   

She said it had been a wake-up call for Argentina, who have to thank their number-two ranking for their Olympic berth since only the Pan-American Games winners go through.   

"It helped us to make a self-criticism, each one of us of what we had to improve, what to change from 2011 and so we resumed in 2012 in the best way.   

"It's normal because in 2010 we won a World Cup where we spent lots of energy of all kinds, physical, technical and especially mental because being here in Argentina (we had) the pressure of having to be the champions.   

"That produced a lot of anxiety and so it's as if we used 2011 more to relax and perhaps we got a bit over-confident."   

Retegui does not see Aymar taking on a coaching role after she retires, saying: "I see her more in the role of an ambassador for her country, she would make a spectacular ambassador abroad... She's known everywhere, the best ever women's hockey player."

(Agencies)