On Friday December 2, Palermo witnessed history – polo history, sports history. Not only because it was about the most expected championship match of the year, the final everybody want to play and win, of course. It was the final of the 129th. Argentine Open that would see the then reigning champions, La Natividad and La Dolfina Saudi, a foursome that’s not only a team but already a legend. The clash of the Cañuelas-based lineups, that had father and son facing nephews (one of them the godson of the uncle, by the way) and cousins. A history made of eight chukkas in the Cathedral, on a splendid sunny Friday, ideal weather, packed grandsstands and a lot of expectation.
Indeed, Palermo saw several historical moments, but this was not another final: it was the rematch of last year’s contest between the two Cañuelas lineups, there was a tiebreak in the 2022 Triple Crown (La Natividad claimed the Tortugas Open and the Hurlingham Open went to La Dolfina Saudi), and some records were broken as well. But let’s go to the much anticipated match.
The first chukka almost ended scoreless; it was Poroto Cambiaso who converted two 30-yards penalties with two minutes remaining, to claim an early 2-0 lead. La Dolfina already demonstrated their dominance, by putting a heavy pressure over La Natividad, blocking every attempt to get closer to the score. It was the same situation in the second chukka; although La Natividad improved their performance, still they were unable to find the flags. Poroto produced another goal, and in the last minute a pass from Nachi du Plessis to Jeta Castagnola, ended in a goal by the latter.
Juan Martín Nero scored a remarkable goal at the start of the third chukka to secure La Dolfina Saudi a 4-1 advantage. And despite Poroto Cambiaso scored for La Dolfina Saudi, La Natividad replied quickly with two goals – a 30-yards penalty conversion by Jeta Castagnola followed by an extraordinary neckshot goal by his brother Barto to narrow the gap to just one goal (4-5). But that third chukka finished exactly the way it started – the back who became a forwarder, Juan Martín Nero, ran at full speed towards the goal. La Dolfina Saudi were 6-4 ahead.
In the fourth chukka, La Natividad found themselves somewhat overwhelmed by La Dolfina Saudi’s solid performance led by the one and only Pelón Stirling, who was in charge to sweep every attempt of attack from the Castagnolas and Co. While Pelón had become sort of a back, the fourth chukka saw a splendid Juan Martin Nero, who added a couple of spectacular goals to secure La Dolfina Saudi a 8-4 lead by half time.
It was expected a very close and tight contest, but suddenly the match belonged to La Dolfina Saudi, by imposing their system, a lineup composed by four players who fit to perfection, and make everything easy and simple. Perhaps that was what overwhelmed La Natividad, who were unable to find their form and their style of play; and it was worth noting that they only produced a handful of goals, when they are used to score an average of 15 goals per match.
Adolfo Cambiaso open the fifth chukka with his first goal, but Juan Martin Nero, man of the moment, produced his fifth goal, that gave La Dolfina Saudi an impressive 10-5 lead. And although the Castagnola brothers scored one goal each, La Dolfina Saudi retained their four-goal advantage, until Barto Castagnola scored another remarkable goal at the start of the fifth chukka. But in the 30 additional seconds, a combination between father and son, ended up in a goal by the son, which meant that La Dolfina Saudi regain the four goal advantage.
Following a scoreless seventh chukka, La Dolfina Saudi were still in control. However, in the last chukka, La Natividad bounced back with two goals by Jeta Castagnola to keep their hopes alive. But the hopes were broken into pieces when Pelón Stirling scored what it could be named “the” goal that sealed the deal. And it was sealed by the one and only Adolfo Cambiaso, the world’s best player, who put the final touch to earn La Dolfina Saudi the 13-9 win, and their 15th. title in Palermo, the second best alongside Hurlingham and behind Coronel Suarez.
The last time a father and son duo won the most coveted polo trophy in the world together was in 1983, exactly 39 years ago. Coronel Suarez II, with Horacio Araya and his then 17-years-old son lifted the cup in Palermo. But Poroto became the youngest player ever to claim the Argentine Open. Because Benjamin was 17 years, 3 months and 11 days. Poroto is 17-years-old and 6 days. The youngest so far, and a soon-to-be a 10-goaler.
But the most important thing, perhaps even more important than the title and the win, Palermo was a dream come true for Adolfo Cambiaso, a man who exceeds his sport. And he got the only achievement that was left to his extraordinary and remarkable career – the dream to be able to win the most important polo tournamnt in the world with his son.
129th. ARGENTINE OPEN – FINAL – FRIDAY DECEMBER 2
LA DOLFINA SAUDI 13-9 LA NATIVIDAD
La Dolfina Saudi: Adolfo Cambiaso 10 (2 goals, 1 corner), David Stirling 10 (1), Adolfo Cambiaso Jr. 9 (5, 2 penalties), Juan Martín Nero 10 (5). Total: 39.
La Natividad: Camilo Castagnola 10 (6, 3 penalties), Pablo Pieres 10, Bartolomé Castagnola Jr. 10 (3), Ignatius du Plessis 9. Total: 39.
Score La Dolfina Saudi: 2-0, 3-1, 6-4, 8-4, 10-6, 11-7, 11-7, 13-9.
Umpires: Gastón Lucero & Martín Pascual. Third man: José Ignacio Araya.
Gonzalo Heguy MVP Award: Juan Martín Nero.
Javier Novillo Astrada Award to the top scorer of the tournament: Camilo Castagnola (54).
Rubén Sola Revelation Award:: Tomás Panelo.
Fomento Equino Cup to the best mounted player of the final: Juan Martín Nero.
Gonzalo Tanoira Award to the best mounted player of the tournament: Adolfo Cambiaso.
Fair Play Award: Adolfo Cambiaso Jr.
Lady Susan Townley to the BPP: Irenita Harinosa, ridden by David Stirling.
Best Polo Argentino Bred Presented by the Argentine Polo Pony Breeders Assn. and Sociedad Rural Argentina Award: Anay Sur Brandy, ridden by Juan Martín Nero.
Cover photo by Matias Callejo/Prensa AAP.