By Alex Webbe
In the second major upset of the 2017 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup quarterfinals, a dazzling display by Francisco Elizalde and a united team effort by Habtoor (Mohammed Al Habtoor, Nicolas Pieres, Francisco Elizalde and Paco O’Dwyer) carried them past the 2017 Queens Cup championship RH Polo team (Ben Soleimani, Tommy Beresford, Hilario Ulloa and Rodrigo Andrade) Sunday afternoon at the Cowdray Park Polo Club.
With Hilario Ulloa filling in for an injured Adolfo Cambiaso, both Queens Cup finalists found themselves relegated to the sidelines as the British Open semifinal berths were being assigned.
A strong opening chukker showing by Habtoor saw Francisco Elizalde score the opening goal of the match on a pass from teammate Paco O’Dwyer, 1-0. Elizalde made it 2-0 on a well-executed cut shot as RH Polo struggled to find their rhythm. Nico Pieres scored the final goal of the chukker as the bell sounded, and the upstart Habtoor polo team left the field after the first chukker of play with an impressive 3-0 advantage.
RH Polo bounced back in the second period with a 30-yard penalty goal from Tommy Beresford and a goal from Brazilian 8-goaler Rodrigo Andrade on an effort that carried him half of the length of the field, 3-2. Hilario Ulloa scored on a drop pass from Andrade at the six-minute mark ta leveled the score at three goals apiece, 3-3, but it was Habtoor with the final goal of the chukker, with Elizalde’s third goal of the match for the 4-3 edge.
The two teams matched one another goal-for-goal in the third. Elizalde, who seemed to be everywhere, opened the scoring, 5-3, followed by a 30-yard penalty goal from Beresford, 5-4. Ulloa took control of the ensuing throw-in and raced 150-yrds down the field to tie it at 5-5. O’Dwyer scored the final goal of the first half for a 6-5 Habtoor lead.
In the opening minute of the second half, Andrade scored on a pass from Ulloa to tie the game at 6-6. A penalty shot by Pieres falls short but is tapped in by O’Dwyer that put Habtoor back in the lead, 7-6. Beresford took advantage of a Habtoor foul by scoring his third penalty goal of the day, 7-7, but it would be Elizalde with his fifth goal of the afternoon that kept Habtoor in front, 8-7.
A decisive fifth chukker belonged to Habtoor as they scored three unanswered goals. O’Dwyer opened the scoring in the period followed by a goal from Elizalde that made it 10-7. The final goal of the period was scored by Pieres who raced down the field all by himself to give Habtoor a four-goal lead, 11-7, with one chukker left in regulation play.
RH Polo appeared to be up to the challenge as the sixth period got underway. Andrade scored on a beautifully-executed neck shot from over 100-yards out, 11-8, and Ulloa followed up with a goal that cut the Habtoor lead to two goals, 11-9. Elizalde continued to impress as he scored his seventh goal of the game (giving him a tournament-leading 20-goals) for a 12-9 Habtoor lead with time running out. Andrade scored the final goal of the match on a short penalty shot but it was Habtoor with the 12-10 win and a date in the British Open semifinals on Wednesday.
Elizalde led all scoring with seven goals. O’Dwyer added three goals and Pieres scored twice for the win. Andrade’s four goals led the RH Polo offense with teammates Beresford and Ulloa each scoring three goals each.
The absence of Cambiaso was obvious, but there was nothing that could distract from an impressive effort put on by Elizalde and the Habtoor lineup.
King Power 10, Talandracas 6
On the strength of a 10-6 win over a plucky Talandracas polo team (Edouard Carmignac, Guillermo Caset, Pelon Stirling and Hugo Lewis), the King Power Foxes (Hugo Taylor, Jimbo Fewster, Gonzalito Pieres and Facundo Pieres) will return to the semifinals of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup in an effort to defend their 2016 title.
Talandracas took control of the game early on the strength of consecutive goals from 10-goaler Pelon Stirling, 2-0. Hugo Taylor responded with a goal from the field for King Power, 2-1. Hugo Lewis scored the final goal of the first chukker, giving Talandracas a 3-1 lead.
The King Power defense did their job in the second period. Shutout defense was complimented by a pair of goals from Facundo Pieres, tying the game at three goals apiece, 3-3.
Gonzalo Pieres gave King Power their first lead of the game with a third chukker goal, 4-3, but Talandracas fought back. Sapo Caset scored twice for Talandracas, ending the first half on top, 5-4.
A scoreless fourth period was followed by a King Power rally that resulted in a run of six straight goals that ran into the final chukker. Jimbo Fewster tapped in a goal that came on a penalty shot by Facundo Pieres that fell short, tying the game at 5-5. Facundo Pieres went on a tear, racing nearly the full length of the field for the go-ahead goal, 6-5. A well-placed pass from Gonzalito Pieres found Facundo racing toward the Talandracas goal where he added another, 7-5. His final goal sot of the period came on a 70-yard neck-shot that had King Power in the lead by three goals, 8-5.
A Safety at the end of the fifth chukker was executed by Facundo Pieres in the sixth where he drained the 60-yard shot to make it 9-5. Fewster second goal of the day made it 10-5 and left Talandracas pressing just to stay in the game. Hugo Lewis scored the final goal of the game for Talandracas, but it was King Power with the 10-6 victory and a date ton Wednesday with Habtoor in the noon semifinal.
Facundo Pieres scored a game-high six goals. Fewster added two goals and Taylor and Gonzalito Pieres each scored once for the win. Stirling, Caset and Lewis scored wo goals apiece for Talandracas in the loss.