Habtoor Falter in Gold Cup Debut, Fall to La Indiana 12-8
Habtoor made their debut Monday in the 2017 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup on Brooks field at Ambersham. The new kid on the block succumbed to La Indiana 12-8, with most of the damage done in the last two chukkas. Although they tied the game at the top of the fourth on a crisp field shot from Francisco Elizalde, it was all downhill for Habtoor from there. Merlos slammed in 3 consecutive goals, closing the fifth chukka with a 5-goal lead for La Indiana (11-6). Nico Pieres rallied with 2 goals for Habtoor in the sixth, but Merlos answered and La Indiana trotted off to the winners’ tent.
The first half was a slow and sticky game, with a plethora of Habtoor’s Nico Pieres converted all 3 of his penalty attempts in the first half. But throughout the game Habtoor had difficulty converting their shots, only making 4 of 14. La Indiana controlled Pieres and Elizalde in open play, preventing them from breaking away for runs. They achieved that by hyper-focusing defensively on those two players and crowding their space.
Tempers flared early in the game when a whistle blew. One La Indiana player complained to an umpire about the call and apparently didn’t like the answer he got. The ump wandered away to avoid further confrontation, but La Indiana wasn’t done. Another team member rode over to the ump, and in a flash he was joined by the second ump. The player launched into a loud protest. In what looked like a synchronized move, both umps simultaneously yanked a yellow flag of their pockets and waved it directly at him. It only counted as a single yellow, but it was enough to quell any further flare-ups from the team in white for the rest of the game.
The game opened up in the second half with fewer fouls (only 2 for La Indiana). La Indiana promptly got back to their normal style of play, using the entire team. Patron Michael Bickford minded the front, allowing the Nic Roldan/Tincho Merlos combo to pass into open space and run with the ball. The hair-trigger La Indiana offense seemed to rattle Habtoor in the fourth and fifth chukkas. La Indiana won those chukkas 5-1, effectively sealing the win.
Merlos and Pieres shared the game high-scorer slot with 7 goals each. Today was Pieres’ first game in the tournament, so it’s too early to draw interpretations. Merlos is already having a stellar season. He ranks #1 in season stats for total goals and highest number of goals per game, and he is tied with Adolfo Cambiaso for the highest number of field goals. (See stats below.)
Pieres had a good game for Habtoor, shooting 4/4 on penalties and 3/6 from the field. He was their only true offensive presence. But La Indiana severely limited him, particularly in the fourth and fifth chukkas. Elizalde also struggled, only shooting 1/6 from the field. Paco O’Dwyer, playing in place of Isidro Strada, performed well defensively for Habtoor. But without the additional offense to assist Pieres, it became impossible to keep pace with La Indiana. Despite their concerted efforts, it was the lack of offense and execution that did Habtoor in.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup resumes Wednesday with two games: Talandracas v. Monterosso at noon, and Sommelier v. Murus Sanctus at 3 p.m.
All 2017 Gold Cup games are being live streamed on pololine.tv.
Complete tournament schedule and daily game locations: https://cowdraypolo.co.uk/tournament/14/
2017 UK SEASON STATS: TINCHO MERLOS (LA INDIANA)
TOTAL GOALS: Rank #1 (49 goals), today taking over the top spot from Hilario Ulloa (Murus Sanctus)
FIELD GOALS: Tied for #1 with Adolfo Cambiaso (29 goals)
MOST GOALS PER GAME: Rank #1 (6.1), if you don't include Nico Pieres, who had 7 goals today in his only game
PENALTY GOALS: Rank #3 (80%) among all players with at least 10 penalty attempts