Two teams who nearly annihilated each other in the Hurlingham final won their respective matches Sunday in the 124th Argentine Open. Ellerstina Johor, in their 2017 Palermo debut, clobbered Chapaleufú Cardón 21-7. In the second game Cría Yatay Colony made Alegría Land Rover sweat it out for a 14-11 magenta win.
The victors held the lead all the way through their matches Sunday, with the exception of a 4-4 tie early in Alegría v. Cría Yatay. Both Ellerstina and Alegría are qualified for Palermo 2018.
In a departure from what seems to have become “the new normal” this season, with several teams taking double-digit wins, Cría Yatay and Alegría made each other miserable for two hours Sunday. Alegría clawed their way to a three-goal win and remains undefeated (2-0) in the 2017 Argentine Open. It was déjà vu of their matchup in Tortugas, when Alegría also took a three-goal spread (16-13).
It was a kick to see a real contest in Palermo, and it must have felt that way for the teams, both of whom have been part of this season’s wide-gap phenomenon. Cría Yatay took Chapaleufú 18-8 November 5 in the Open, and Alegría whopped La Irenita 18-5 in Hurlingham. Cría Yatay also experienced the flip side with a 17-6 loss to Ellerstina in Hurlingham.
In the first chukker of Sunday’s game it looked like Alegría was going to dominate, scoring the first three goals (consecutive), but Cría Yatay adjusted in time. They brought Valerio Zubiaurre back a bit more, freeing up Cristián Laprida and Joaquín Pittaluga to attack. Cría Yatay was better than previously this time at stopping Alegría from breaking away for runs and was in a better position to defend against it.
Play was tense and physical (yellow card for Joaquín Pittaluga), and the score remained tight all the way through. Except for the second chukker, which ended in a tie at 4, and the final score, every chukker closed as anyone’s game with Alegría leading by two. Things tightened up in the second half, with every player on the field marking his opponent. That kept both teams from going on any runs. The game went on a long stretch of ping-pong scoring, the teams making one goal each in the fifth, sixth and seventh chukkers.
At the top of the eighth Cría Yatay got within 10 yards of goal, but Alegría suddenly stopped—and stunned—them. Sapo Caset latched onto the ball and launched into a 290-yard breakaway. He chased the ball into goal and came through with another, bringing his total to six goals on the day.
Cría Yatay maintained a high level of play all afternoon and gave Alegría all they could handle to maintain the lead. Because it was a very tight game with a lot of backhands in the middle of the field, that kept Cría Yatay from closing the gap. Alegría clung to the lead, with the work of Fred Mannix and Hilario Ulloa key defensively. Captain Sapo Caset was superb offensively as always, but the three goals Mannix added late in the game were key.
Cristián “Magoo” Laprida, who made five goals, was a standout player for Cría Yatay. He stayed active in the middle of the field and seemed to be everywhere the ball was. For him it was a celebratory day, and not only because of the win. Laprida’s five goals notched him up a level in Palermo, where he joined the league of players who have reached 50 goals in the Open. He ended the day with 54.
Alegría’s Fred Mannix, who made three crucial goals and was also key to the defense, reflected Monday on the game. Here’s what he had to say.
“That was a fantastic match and a fun game! It was a good, open game, and that is good for polo, too. A lot of people traveled a long way to go see that match in Palermo, so everyone was a winner yesterday.”
“Nacho [Ignacio Laprida] is a lot of fun to play. That team was ready, and we had to keep the pressure on. It’s fun to play a concentrated match and escape with a victory.”
“Both teams had success Sunday from being well mounted. All year long all players are looking for horses all over world, wherever they’re playing. It’s that continuous pursuit to find that next champion, and that’s what you saw on the field yesterday. That’s what makes Yatay and Alegría better.”
“In games we have dominated, we had to maintain our concentration and rhythm, and not let that level go down no matter who we’re playing. A few times this season we’ve played very complete games no matter who the opponent was, and I’m happy for that.”
- Cría Yatay shoots efficient 9/13, Alegria 11/19
- Alegría wins 7 of last 10 throw-ins
- Magoo Laprida 5 goals, Joaquín Pittaluga 6
- Both teams 50% on penalty conversions
- Fouls: Alegría 12, Cría Yatay 7
Photos by Katerina Morgan