Polo titans Argentina have been a regular fixture at the Fortune Heights FIP Snow Polo World Cup since the inaugural tournament back in 2012, when the FIP-endorsed event debuted here at the magnificent Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club as Asia’s first ever snow polo tournament.
Since then, the trophy has been hoisted five times, but never by the South American side, their previous best result to date a second place in 2013, also against Hong Kong China. But today undoubtedly belonged to the Argentina trio of Dylan Rossiter, Francisco Menendez, Santiago Cernadas and their ponies, who played hard and fast and took their chances against Hong Kong China, denying the tournament’s most successful team a fourth championship by scoring six goals to their five over a breathless four chukkas.
The conditions on the South Field were near enough perfect: clear blue skies, barely a sniff of wind, and the compacted surface of crisp, high-traction snow a credit to the hardworking ground crews. Mr. Nicholas Colquhoun-Denvers, President of the Federation of International Polo, threw the ball in to get the Grand Final of the 2017 Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup underway, and it was Hong Kong China who came out of the blocks the fastest, early chances falling to Gaston Moore and Matias Vial. But their team mate John Fisher pinched the first score of the day, galloping on to a loose ball and unleashing an open forehand that sailed through the posts. Almost immediately, Gaston Moore made it two, capping off a confident start by the local side.
Unbowed, Argentina pulled one back with a beautifully measured neck shot by Dylan Rossiter, who pumped it home with great pace and power. Rossiter had another chance soon after, which he put wide, but Argentina were finding their rhythm at last. Then it was all square, Dylan Rossiter capping off a fine personal spell by galloping onto a loose ball and thwacking in his second to make it 2 – 2.
The scores didn’t stay even for long, Matias Vial smashing a monster hit goalward for Hong Kong China, which bounced innocently over the line after just 30 seconds of play in the third chukka. Argentina brought the scores level again with a simple penalty, but then it was Hong Kong China back on the offensive, Gaston Moore unhorsed after a collision, and the resulting penalty making it 4 – 3 to Hong Kong China.
With the two sides so evenly balanced, the momentum swung back and forth; Menendez and Cernadas linked up expertly for Argentina to make it level, and then Menendez popped out of the scrum with the ball on his stick to score and put Argentina ahead for the first time in the match. It didn’t last long, however, Matias Vial making no mistake with his penalty to make it 5 – 5 going into the fourth and final chukka.
Hong Kong China started with intent, Gaston Moore almost finding the goal with a searching backhand before Matias Vial floated in a shot that looked straight and true until the last wayward second. Santiago Cernadas was also off-target for Argentina, his galloping charge and shot ricocheting off the post. With less than two minutes on the clock, Cernadas got a chance from the penalty spot which he tapped in to give Argentina the advantage. Patient build-up by Hong Kong China then won them a penalty, but Matias Vial elected to blast it rather than guide it in, his shot careering wide of the post. The miss proved costly, Argentina hanging on to their single goal lead as the seconds ticked away, the score at the final bell, 6 – 5 to Argentina, world champions at last.
At the post match medals ceremony, the Most Valuable Player accolade was awarded to Argentina’s Francisco Menendez, while the Best Pony award, a polo tradition, went to Gorda and Bagi. In his closing address, FIP President Mr. Nicholas Colquhoun-Denvers praised the “vision and drive” of Chairman Pan, the man behind Fortune Heights and the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, for helping to bring back the sport of polo to China, a part of its ancient heritage dating back to the Tang Dynasty.
In the subsidiary final for third place, the South African trio of Jannie Steenkamp, Chris MacKenzie and Tom de Bruin took on Ali Paterson, James Harper and Jack Richardson of England. Neither side could break the deadlock in the opening chukka, but the game’s first goal came just after the restart from South Africa’s Tom de Bruin. It proved to be the only score of a tight first half of polo, as the sinking sun bathed the mighty edifice of the Goldin Finance 117 skyscraper in an azure glow.
The game moved up a gear in the third chukka, South Africa’s Chris MacKenzie stretching his side’s lead, before England finally scored their first of the match, a James Harper effort. South Africa restored their lead on the halfway mark courtesy of Jannie Steenkamp, but England’s Jack Richardson pulled one back just before the bell, to make it 3 – 2 in favour of South Africa going into the final chukka.
South Africa looked sharpest in the closing minutes, Tom de Bruin coming close with two fine long range efforts, before teammate Chris MacKenzie pumped in an absolute peach from range, which arced in the air and snuck in at the near post. England rallied with a penalty goal by Jack Richardson, but it wasn’t enough, South Africa galloping out worthy winners and taking third place by five goals to three.
With the 2017 Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup concluded, polo fans in Tianjin and further afield can look ahead to a rich program of forthcoming equestrian events as the weather warms up after Spring Festival. On behalf of Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, Happy Year of the Rooster!