Valiente and Zacara Advance to Semifinals With Command Performances
By Darlene Ricker
Valiente and Zacara advance to the semifinals of the 2016 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup for the British Open. The two convincingly won their respective quarterfinal matches Saturday, the outcome of neither games ever really appearing in doubt. Valiente rolled over Clarke & Green 14-7 and Zacara took HB Polo 12-9. It was a stunning performance by both victors.
The first match of the day was 42 minutes of war between the 10-goalers (Pablo MacDonough and David “Pelón” Stirling). HB Polo scored the first goal, with Stirling keeping the ball close and floating behind MacDonough until he could pull ahead for the approach shot. However, that was the only time HB Polo held the lead all day. Other than coming from behind later on to tie the score twice (Ignacio “Cubi” Toccalino in the third chukka and Stirling in the fourth, both from the penalty line), everything accelerated downhill for HB Polo like a snowball careening down Mt. Everest.
It was clear from the get-go that something was off kilter. HB’s uncharacteristic lack of sync turned into devastating loss for a team that have been impressive all season. In both the Gold Cup and the Queen’s Cup, HB Polo made it through to the quarterfinals. Until then HB Polo performed superbly in the British Open, never losing by more than one or two goals and just a week ago defeating Zacara 12-10. It’s anyone’s guess went awry in Saturday’s repeat matchup. Maybe there was a glitch in HB’s strategy, or perhaps the polo gods were in a punishing mood—or, as everyone knows in this sport, sometimes it’s your day, sometimes it isn’t.
Stirling and Toccalino just weren’t clicking as well as they had in previous games. To make matters worse, most of the time neither had enough space to hit the ball. It rapidly dissolved into a game of margins, where repeated simple mistakes made the difference between a goal and a miss for HB Polo. Zacara capitalized on nearly every one of their opponent’s errors. They turned HB’s tactic from the previous game around on them and adopted it for themselves, blocking plays like stone walls and dominating the knock-ins. Right after Toccalino tied the game at 5, Tom Brodie scored from the knock-in for Zacara. HB just couldn’t catch a break, and all told it seemed more a matter of their losing the game than Zacara winning it. (In fairness it should be noted that Stirling scored in every chukka, and this was the first season he and Toccalino played together as teammates.)
The connection between Zacara’s 10-goaler Pablo MacDonough and Lucas Monteverde (an invincible 8-goaler) was unshakable. Zacara had a free man at critical moments—and when it was MacDonough, he was so quick on the ball and his horses so fast that he forced HB Polo into a game of “catch me if you can.” He pounced when Stirling was on the approach to goal in the third, edging him off stride and preventing what looked like a sure goal in the works.
The fifth chukka came down to a one-on-one duel between Stirling and MacDonough. Stirling found some space, maneuvered his way past MacDonough and dashed into goal, tightening the gap to one (9-8 for Zacara). Zacara began to show some tension, and things went a little western for a bit. MacDonough came out on top of a vigorous scrap to score, promptly doing so again from the goal line. The game ended 12-9 for Zacara.
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The second quarterfinal match was all Valiente, all the way. But it wasn’t all Adolfo Cambiaso and Juan Martín Nero, although their names were, as usual, emblazoned all over the scoreboard. Cambiaso’s brilliant lineup change two games ago (after patron Bob Jornayvaz was sidelined with a broken foot) was a major factor in Valiente’s 14-7 massacre of Clarke & Green.
Cambiaso is not only an unparalleled talent in the history of the sport, but he also knows how to spot talent in others, as well as how to develop it and use it to the best advantage of a team. When he noticed that something wasn’t working during Valiente’s shocking loss to La Indiana earlier in the tournament, he spent a few days rotating several of his players in practice matches. The configuration that worked best was to incorporate young Rob Jornayvaz into the lineup as No. 1 and Kian Hall as No. 2.
Jornayvaz is 23 and Hall 18, and both 1-goalers are playing in their first British Open. For Hall this marks his first season competing in high-goal. Cambiaso saw in the two not just talent but a rare thread of confidence and nerves of steel for such young players. Since the lineup change Valiente has won every game hands-down. Saturday a pass from Jornayvaz to Hall brought Valiente ahead 8-2 in the third chukka. In the fourth Jornayvaz held John Paul Clarkin at bay while Cambiaso buzzed in out of nowhere to score, casting a pleased look at Jornayvaz as he passed by. Hall made five goals on the day and Jornayvaz scored once, together accounting for almost half of Valiente’s total goals. (So much for pigeonholing Valiente as a “two-man team.”)
Ludovic Pailloncy 1
Ignacio Toccalino 8
David Stirling 10
Sebastien Pailloncy 3
Tom Brodie 3
Lyndon Lea 1
Lucas Monteverde 8
Pablo MacDonough 10
Robert Joynayvaz 1
Kian Hall 1
Adolfo Cambiaso 10
Juan Martín Nero 9
Clarke & Green
Nick Clarke 1
Juan Zavaleta 7
John Paul Clarkin 7
Luke Tomlinson 7