Two exciting semi-Finals between VS King Power and Park Place and Dubai and Scone Polo saw victories for Top Srivaddhanaprabha’s VS King Power team and Ali Albwardy’s Dubai taking them to Sunday’s Final. The two sides last met in a Gold Cup Final at Cowdray Park in 2014.
VS King Power, who have added VS to the team’s name in memory of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who lost his life in a helicopter crash at Leicester City FC stadium in October 2018, altered their line-up for the Final. Vichai’s son ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha played at number 1 as usual, but Polito Pieres took the number 2 slot, Marcos di Paola moving up to 3 and Juan Martin Zubia playing at Back. Dubai kept their line-up unchanged with 16 year old Camilo Castagnola at 1, Rashid Albwardy at 2, Bartolomé Castagnola at 3 and Ignacio du Plessis at Back.
Chukka 1 opened with Pieres immediately on the attack, his first attempt at goal going wide. A couple of minutes of frantic action resulted in a penalty being awarded to Dubai which Camilo Castagnola sent from 30 yards to secure the opening goal of the match for his side. A lovely steal by Polito was the making of goal number 2, with Zubia picking up the ball and sending it between the posts. Polito won the ball from the throw in and tore all the way to Dubai’s end to make it 2-1 for King Power to close the chukka.
Camilo and Bartolomé Castagnola produced three goals in chukka 2, and, with just one from Pieres for VS King Power, the chukka ended with Dubai 4-3 ahead. A fast and tough chukka 3 saw a spot penalty awarded to KVS King Power right in front of Dubai’s goal, which Polito sent through to equalize, but Bartolomé answered with two goals for Dubai and at the end of the first half the score stood at 6-4 in Dubai’s favour.
The massive crowd went out to tread-in, so large in fact that the commentators’ cries for them to return to their seats were swamped by the excited spectators’ comments. When the fourth chukka got underway, a fantastic piece of play saw Polito Pieres leave the ball for Zubia who obliged with a huge lofted shot to score goal number 11 for VS King Power. Rashid Albwardy won the ball from the throw-in but di Paola grabbed it back, Zubia stopped Bartolomé from snatching it while Marcos came through and passed to Top who made a superb goal to even the scores on 6-6. Another fantastic goal from Top and King Power were ahead. A 30 yard penalty awarded to King Power just as the chukka was drawing to a close enabled Polito Pieres to extend the lead to 8-6.
A frantic fifth chukka saw spot penalties produce a goal for each side before a fantastic shot, hit from way back, saw Polito Pieres take VS King Power on to 10-7. His next goal came from a 60 yard penalty and it was 11-7 in VS King Power’s favour. Dubai won the next throw-in but with Bartolomé challenged by Pieres, his young brother coolly slipped through and scored, the chukka ending at 11-8 to VS King Power. The sixth chukka opened with a swift goal from Camilo, then it was his brother’s turn to shoot a mighty goal. Camilo won the ball from the throw-in and there was a scramble in front of VS King Power’s goal which resulted in a whistle. Bartolomé calmly sent the ball through the posts from 60 yards and it was 11-11. The excitement in the crowd was palpable. VS King Power won the throw-in and Polito scored to take his side into the lead again. Top saved the ball from Dubai’s next attempt at goal, but, aided by the power of du Plessis, Bartolomé was able to find a way through and even the scores at 12-12 before the whistle blew.
The match went into a seventh chukka and started with a throw-in. Away went Zubia with the ball, but du Plessis was having none of it and struck out for the other end. Top made a great clearance, the ball taken on by Marcos di Paola, Polito Pieres and then Zubia who raced away to Dubai’s goal only to send the ball wide. In came the ball from the back line and off down the boards raced Bartolomé, the wonderfully intuitive combination with his brother which we have seen throughout this Gold Cup tournament coming to the fore as Camilo dived forward with the ball and put it through. Dubai had won the King Power Gold Cup on a score of 13-12 in truly breathtaking finish.
Jon Rudkin, Director of Football for Leicester City FC, presented individual prizes to all players, the tournament umpires and commentators before handing the coveted Gold Cup to Rashid Albwardy, son of the Dubai patron. The Most Valuable Player of the match award went to Polito Pieres of VS King Power, Open Chacota, owned and played by Top Srivaddhanaprabha, was voted Best Playing Patron’s Pony, and Rebalde, owned and played by Camilo Castagnola, was awarded Best Playing Pony of the match, with a rug presented by The Hon Lila Pearson.
Following the match, Ali Albwardy, patron of Dubai said, “It was such an exciting match. I’m proud of all the boys in this young team, they played fantastically – in fact, both teams had a wonderful match. The game was entertaining to watch, hard, fast and exactly what polo should be. I thank Cowdray Park Polo Club for their fantastic organization of the tournament.”
Photo: Mark Beaumont