In a matchup between a team who underperformed in the Cartier Queen’s Cup (King Power Foxes) and a team who come into the Gold Cup with momentum (La Indiana), it was King Power Foxes who put on a dominant performance Wednesday at Ambersham. Their 9-7 defeat of La Indiana made it clear they are a serious threat to any team in the Gold Cup.
Their winning strategy had a singular focus: Force La Indiana to play “our game.”
It was little surprise to defending champions King Power that it worked, although they never take anything for granted. As a team they are meticulous about preparation for every game, and this time it was more important than ever. They had to get the message across that they intend to capture the Gold Cup for a third consecutive year.
“We knew we had to keep possession of the ball, and we did that a lot,” said Gonzalito Pieres. “They’re a good team, really aggressive, so we couldn’t let them get through. We always had a man in the back and an eye on them so they couldn’t play their game. Honestly I think we could have scored a few more goals, but we planned the game one way, and it went the way that we wanted.”
Left to their own devices La Indiana swarm the field like hornets and maintain a fast-paced style, which in the Queen’s Cup gave them an average of 12.8 shot attempts per game. But this time they couldn’t break away for the runs they needed to attack goal, making only 5 attempts in the entire game. Although La Indiana’s power duo of Tincho Merlos and Nic Roldan were efficient from the field, the King Power defense curbed their scoring opportunities by marking any available receivers. With King Power controlling the ball offensively, it created a slower-paced game that favored the on-ball mallet skills of the Pieres brothers.
After a sleepy first half Facundo Pieres came out of the gate on one of his favourite mares, “Niña.” He raced straight to Merlos and snatched the ball from him. “Niña” wheeled around like a grand prix dressage horse executing a pirouette and headed for goal. Finding a minuscule of an opening, Pieres delivered the ball straight through the posts.
Meanwhile Merlos and Roldan tried every which way to stop the onslaught. Combined they made all of their team’s 7 goals—the last of which came after a King Power mistake in the sixth that caused a throw-in from about 25 yards away from the La Indiana goal. Roldan sent the ball through, bringing the score uncomfortably close for King Power’s liking (8-7 advantage). The team in blue put in one more goal to take the 9-7 win.
Facundo Pieres gave the credit to King Power’s horses, which were crucial to the team’s hopped-up performance in the second half. He said “Niña,” from his family’s breeding program in Argentina, “went amazing” in the fourth chukka. “At that moment in the game it was very important to us” to have fast horses, he said, noting that La Indiana is always very strong in the fourth and fifth chukkas. “Today we could control them, and that is because our horses and our team went very well.”
But don’t count La Indiana (2016 Gold Cup finalists) out of the race. Back in the tent, while everyone else was taking off his boots in grim silence, Roldan leaned back in his chair, looked into the distance and said to no one in particular, “Next time. Next time. Next time.”
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup resumes this weekend. On Saturday Sommelier plays Talandracas at 3 p.m., and Sunday features a double-header: RH Polo vs. Murus Sanctus at noon and King Power Foxes vs. La Bamba de Areco at 3 p.m.
All 2017 Gold Cup games are being live streamed on pololine.tv by polocam.tv
Full game schedule can be found here.
Photography by Snoopy Productions