by Peter Ibrahim Abisheganaden
For the second year running, the BMW – B Grimm Thai Polo Open was decided by the very last hit of the game. It was a very exciting final, with superb polo played by both teams. It was a dramatic end as the game went beyond the final bell with a make-or-break penalty shot to decide the game. In the end Dato’ Harald Link’s Thai Polo hung on to a slender 1/2 goal lead to defeat Brian Xu’s Axus by 7 – 6 1/2.
The match started at level pegging between the two 14-goal teams. Thai Polo had led from the start of the match. Argentine 8-goaler Juan Agustin Garcia Grossi combined very well with Lucas Labat, controlling the game with excellent stickwork and superb inter-passing. The father and daughter combination of Dato’ Harald and Caroline Link also played well for Thai Polo. They played very well against the three-pro Axus team, who played made a very good game of it with Horatio Etcheverry, Dario Musso and Diego Gomez. Thai Polo had the slight edge, going into half-time with a 4 – 2 lead.
The match took a different course in the 2nd half. Caroline Link, who was playing her usual gutsy game, took a tumble as her horse came down early in the 3rd chukka. The match was halted for nearly 10 minutes as Caroline was stretchered off with a suspected broken wrist or forearm. Caroline was replaced by Juan Martin Gallago. Because his handicap was a goal higher, Thai Polo had to give Axus 1/2 a goal. By the end of the 3rd chukka, Axus was still down by a goal and a half. Determined play by Musso and Etcheverry brought them within half a goal of Thai Polo in the final chukka.
With thirty seconds remaining, Thai Polo was awarded a 5B penalty from the centre of the field. Everyone was surprised when Labat chose to attack, instead of using Grossi to kill the clock. The attack went awry and Axus broke away with the ball. Grossi had to scramble back to thwart a last ditch attempt by Axus to steal the match. He managed to clear it from the Thai goal-mouth, but in doing so, hit it over his own backline. With 1 second remaining in the match, Axis was given the safety 60 yarder. Dario Musso had been taking the 60’s but this time he deferred to Etcheverry. It was agony for Thai Polo as they had lost the Thai Open with a missed penalty with the last hit of the game in last year’s final.
5 seconds was added to the clock for the penalty to be played. If Etcheverry scored, Axus would win. If he missed, it would be Thai Polo’s. Etcheverry’s shot went wide and Thai Polo celebrated a 7 – 6 1/2. There was much rejoicing in Thai Polo’s fourth Thai Open triumph, but much of it was muted as there was also a lot of concern for Caroline’s status in hospital. Dato’ Harald was pleased to announce that Caroline was okay, but it later emerged she may have fractured her forearm.
In an earlier match, Tan Sri Hamdan’s Ranhill defeated Royal Pahang 9 – 8 in a free scoring match that saw Royal Pahang come back from five goals down to make a match of it. Two brilliant goals by Tengku Amir in the final minute saw them claw back the deficit, but it was just not enough to catch Ranhill.
Facundo Llosa was adjudged the most valuable player of the tournament. The 17-year-old 4 goaler was a revelation, scoring 10 goals in a qualifying game, starring for Ranhill.
1. Thai Polo (+14)
Harald Link (0)
Caroline Link (0) / Juan Martin Gallago (+1)
Lucas Labat (+6)
Agustin Garcia Grossi (+8)
2. Axus (+14)
Brian Xu (0)
Diego Gomez (+2)
Dario Musso (+6)
Horacio Etcheverry (+6)
3. Ranhill Polo (+15)
Tan Sri Hamdan (0)
Huzaini Yunos (+4)
Facundo Llosa (+4)
Gerardo Collardin (+7)
4. Royal Pahang (+15)
HRH Prince Abdullah/HRH Prince Amir (+1)
Gaston Moore (+6)
Ignatio Deltour (+4)
Edham Shaharuddin (+4)
Thai Polo hangs on for 4th Thai Open triumph
by Peter Ibrahim Abisheganaden