The sporting thrills continued on 27 January at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, as the Snow Polo World Cup 2016 galloped into day two. As a result of this year’s six-team format, previous day’s victors were in action again, and both England and Hong Kong continued their winning streaks, both booking semi-final places.
Following England’s narrow victory over Chile on the previous day, the trio in white took on European neighbours and old rivals France. The two nations clashed in the quarterfinal stages here in 2014, England’s Jack Richardson scoring the decisive penalty in a twitchy shoot-out. Polo fans were eager to see if Jack would gallop over Gallic hopes again, or whether ‘Les Bleus’ would this time taste victory.
In the saddle for France, sat the experienced trio of Robert Strom, Clement Delfosse and Brieuc Rigaux. For England: Alastair Paterson, George Meyrick and Jack Richardson.
The opening goal of the day was a candidate for fastest ever at the Snow Polo World Cup, England’s Jack Richardson thumping the ball like a jackhammer from the throw-in all the way into the French goal. It did little to rattle France, however, Clement Delfosse turning on a sixpence and charging down the England goal to force a penalty, which Brieuc Rigaux dutifully slotted home.
Although Jack Richardson was in fine form, dribbling the ball between the posts for England’s second, France were starting to get the run of play, a desperate goal line clearance by George Meyrick only getting as far as Robert Strom who levelled the scores. Some rash English defending gifted France another penalty, which Brieuc Rigaux converted to make it 3-2. A snatched English clearance gave France’s Strom a fourth with the last attack of the chukka; 4-2 to the boys in blue.
France began the second with deadly intent, Brieuc Rigaux flying out of the blocks to score. But despite their dominance, Jack Richardson was keeping England in it, shooting wide before slotting home a penalty of his own to make it 5-3. A moment later, the England number three plucked the ball out of the air so sweetly it was like he was netting a butterfly, before turning his pony and galloping in a fine goal to narrow the deficit to a single score at the halfway stage.
It took three minutes of the penultimate chukka for the England fight back to bear more fruit, Jack Richardson finding the goal to tie the scores. And then advantage swung to the boys in white, the inspired Richardson adding a smart sixth to put England ahead. Rigaux had the opportunity to tie the scores with seconds left on the clock, but shanked his penalty wide of the post.
England kept up the momentum in the final chukka, George Meyrick finding the French goal after just 30 seconds. France fought back valiantly, stretching the English defence to its limits and getting a deserved goal with half a minute left on the clock. But it wasn’t quite enough, England riding out 7-6 the victors.
As the melodic strains of the Buenos Aires Opera Troupe reached their rousing crescendo during the break, the spectators bustled out of the atrium and back to the snow-carpeted South Field for the day’s second match.
Hong Kong China had put Canada to the sword the day before, scoring a dozen times with only two in reply. Their opponents now were Argentina, semi-finalists last year and, of course, the country that boasts more top-ranked polo stars than any other. A spicy contest was in store.
Lining up for Hong Kong China: Henry Fisher, James Harper, and Matias Vial. Their opponents were Bautista Arrastua, Horacio Fernandez Llorente and Gonzalo del Rio.
It was first blood to Hong Kong China two minutes into the match, a penalty score courtesy of the sure stick of Matias Vial. The home favourites almost made it two soon after, Vial slugging a 60-yard pass which Henry Fisher very nearly converted, his tight-angled shot striking the post. Hong Kong China got their reward soon after with a penalty, Matias Vial scoring again. The last word of the chukka went to Argentina, however, Gonzalo del Rio galloping on to a loose ball to make it 1-2 at the break.
An exchange of goals in an evenly matched second chukka set the scores at 3-2 going into halftime, Matias Vial unable to increase Hong Kong China’s lead with a missed penalty at the final bell. After the restart, Argentina came back with renewed grit and guile, Fernandez Llorente slamming the ball between the posts to level the scores. Hong Kong responded in kind, Vial making no mistake from the spot this time. Then it was Fernandez Llorente scoring again, stroking it in after three minutes to make it 4-4. The Argentine number two got his third of the chukka via a neatly worked attack soon after, but Hong Kong China closed the play in fine style, Henry Fisher putting the finishing touch on a marvellous team move to set up a thrilling final chukka, the scores poised at 5-5.
In the end, it was the Hong Kong trio who found the greater drive and cohesion in the final period, canny attacking play from Matias Vial winning his side yet another penalty, which he thwacked home. Argentina went for broke, but it was Hong Kong China who kept their heads and had the last word, James Harper cutting in from the boards and smashing the ball in from close range; the final score, 7-5 to Hong Kong China.
Today’s matches will decide who plays Hong Kong China and England in the semi-finals, with Argentina facing Canada and France against Chile.
Juan Echeverz (+4)
Horacio Fernandez Llorente (+6)
Gonzalo Del Rio (+6)
Reserve Player: Martín Orozco (+2)
Derek Sifton (+4)
Robert Stenzel (+5)
Scott Weir (+4)
Francisco Martínez (+6)
Alejandro Vial (+6)
Ignacio Vial (+4)
Reserve Player: Andrés Vial (+4)
George Meyrick (+6)
Jack Richardson (+6)
Alastair Patterson (+4)
Clement Delfosse (+5)
Robert Strom (+4)
Brieuc Rigaux (+5)
Hong Kong China (+16)
James Harper (+6)
Matias Vial (+6)
Henry Fisher (+4)
Reserve Player: Santiago Cernadas (+6)