By Alex Webbe
Wednesday victories by Dubai (Rashid Albwardy, Alejo Taranco, Facundo Sola and Adolfo Cambiaso) and Audi (Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Freddie Mannix) at the International Polo Club set the stage for the final of the 2016 USPA Gold Cup on Sunday afternoon.
Dubai took the field for the noon game against a talented Coca-Cola team (Gillian Johnston, Sugar Erskine, Miguel Astrada and Julio Arellano) in the first semifinal match of the day.
In a cautious and defensively oriented start, Dubai’s Facundo Sola scored the first goal of the day at the 4:09 mark, 1-0. Julio Arellano tied the score less than a minute later on a pass from Coca-Cola team captain Gillian Johnston for the only other goal in the first chukker, 1-1.
Miguel Astrada opened the scoring in the second period on a pass from Johnston, 2-1. Two minutes later Johnston scored her first goal of the day to give Coca-Cola a 3-1 lead. Sola took advantage of a Coca-Cola foul and converted a penalty shot from 30-yards out, 3-2. Arellano scored a goal from the field, 4-2, with Johnston adding her second goal of the chukker and stretching the Coca-Cola lead to three goals, 5-2. With 41 seconds left in the chukker Cambiaso found himself on the receiving end of a mallet swung by Coca-Cola’s Astrada. The game was halted while EMTs rushed to the field to attend to the Number 1 ranked player in the world amidst a hushed crowd of spectators. After a fifteen-minute delay, the game resumed with a bandaged Cambiaso returning to the field.
The Dubai attack scored three consecutive goals in third chukker play. Adolfo Cambiaso converted a 30-yard penalty shot for a goal and followed it up with a goal from the field. Forty-two seconds later Rashid Albwardy tied the game at 5-5 with his first goal of the game. Arellano converted a 60-yard penalty shot for the final score of the first half and a narrow 6-5 Coca-Cola advantage.
A regenerated Dubai team charged onto the field in the fourth chukker and Sola attacked the Coca-Cola goal as if he were possessed. He scored his first goal of the chukker in the opening 15 seconds and added another at the 4:24 mark. His final goal of the period came with just 29 seconds on the clock, and all three goals were supported with shutout defense that had Dubai on top of an 8-6 score.
Showing that it wasn’t just the horses in the previous chukker. Sola scored his fourth goal in a row just two minutes into the fifth period, 9-6. Astrada countered with a goal of his own for the final score in the chukker but it was Dubai with the 9-7 lead.
Astrada scored the first goal of the sixth chukker that brought Coca-Cola to within a goal of the lead, 9-8. Sola followed with another goal from the field a minute later and Dubai was awarded a goal on a Penalty 1 that gave them a three goal lead, 11-8. Showing that there was no quit in the Coca-Cola lineup, Arellano scored the final goal of the game with 43 seconds left in the game as Dubai rode off with the 11-9 win.
Audi 12, Orchard Hill 10
In a rematch of the final of the 2015 USPA Gold Cup final, Audi and Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Julian de Lusarreta, Facundo Pieres and Hilario Ulloa) faced one another in 2016 USPA Gold Cup semifinal play, with Audi getting the better of Orchard Hill, 12-10, and earning the right to defend their 2015 title on Sunday afternoon at 3pm against Dubai.
Playing without the services of 10-goaler Polito Pieres (shoulder separation), Orchard Hill lined up with Argentine 9-goaler Hilario Ulloa. Audi got on the scoreboard early with Gonzalito scoring in the opening 34 seconds of lay, 1-0. The two teams battled through several scoreless minutes before a 60-yard penalty conversion by Gonzalito Pieres accounted for the final goal of the chukker, 2-1.
Julian de Lusarreta tied the game at 2-2 on a goal from the field at the 6:26 mark of the second period. Freddie Mannix and Hilario Ulloa traded goals, 3-3, before Pieres came back with a 30-yard penalty conversion and Rodrigo closed out the chukker with a two goal advantage, 5-3,
It was Orchard Hill’s turn in the third, with Ulloa completely dominating play. Ulloa opened the period with back-to-back penalty goals that leveled the score at 5-5. Ulloa added two more goals and Facundo Pieres came alive to score for the first time on the day to give Orchard Hill the lead, 8-5. Andrade scored a goal from the field and Gonzalito Pieres ended the first half with a 30-yard penalty conversion, 8-7.
Andrade scored the only goal of a defensive fourth period as Audi tied the game at 8-8. Mannix scored a goal from the field midway through the fifth chukker as Audi took the lead, 9-8. Facundo Pieres leveled the score once again at 9-9 with Ulloa getting credit for the final goal of the period and a 10-9 Orchard Hill lead.
Mounted on fresh horses the two teams returned to the field to settle the affair and find out who would be facing Dubai in the tournament final. It didn’t take long.
Pieres converted a 40-yard penalty shot tor a 10-10 deadlock. Two more goals from Gonzalito Pieres left no doubt as to who would face Dubai in the final on Monday.
Gonzalito Pieres led all scoring with seven goals. Andrade added three goals and Mannix scored twice. Ulloa’s six goals set the pace for Orchard Hill with De Lusarreta scoring twice. And the team received one goal by handicap and one goal on a Penalty 1.