In a game that was wide open from the first throw-in, King Power Foxes and Habtoor immediately launched a battle for supremacy Wednesday at Cowdray Park Polo Club. King Power took the day 10-7, earning a spot in Sunday’s 2017 Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup final.
Gonzalito Pieres put the first goal on the board for King Power after an impressive run to goal, but he was immediately countered by a successful penalty shot by younger brother Nico Pieres that tied the game 1-1. Nico built on that momentum to score again out of the throw-in and leave the game 2-1 for Habtoor at the end of the first chukker.
Nico and Gonzalito again took center stage in the second chukker, each making daring high-speed plays designed to outfox their opponent, which kept the score separated by one goal. In the third chukker the game remained scoreless for the first several minutes before Nico sank a penalty shot to increase Habtoor's lead to 4-2. Facundo Pieres seemed to rally his troops in response, and Jimbo Fewster received a pass on the run to again bring King Power within one. A masterful play by Gonzalito tied the game at 4 going into halftime.
The second half erupted into a power struggle as both teams worked to pull ahead. Gonzalito buried an undefended penalty shot to pull King Power ahead in their signature second-half surge, and Facundo responded in kind with a big run to goal, giving King Power a 6-4 advantage.
The fifth chukker unarguably belonged to King Power, who embarked on a massive scoring spree. A penalty shot by Gonzalito was the prelude to a show put on by Facundo and Gonzalito. They worked their way through a crowded field with ease, sensing exactly where the other would be. Facundo sent an amazing shot through the front legs of his mount to double the King Power lead 8-4. Gonzalito rounded out the chukker with a penalty shot.
Habtoor set out to regain ground from the next throw-in. Fran Elizalde launched out of the lineup like a rocket, driving furiously to goal. Hugo Taylor answered with a goal for King Power, sending them into double digits 10-5. Paco O'Dwyer and Elizalde got in two more tenacious goals before the final horn, but they still came up short, and defending champion King Power Foxes once again captured their spot in the Gold Cup final.
For teenagers Jimbo Fewster (age 18) and Hugo Taylor (17), the opportunity to play with King Power has been momentous.
"[The guys] are so good to play with. I've learned from all of them, even off the field. The coaches, everybody is giving tips. They've helped me improve my positioning, where I am in the field," Fewster said. "Now I know where to be when we have the ball and when they have the ball. Before I was a bit, 'Should I go there? Shouldn't I?' "
Taylor agreed. "This is my first year playing this level. I think they've helped me improve on really reading the game, and how to be in the correct positions," he said. "It was really rough out there. Habtoor was playing really tough, and we knew it was going to be a hard match. We changed the team a little bit last game, and we tried to keep it simple."
Gonzalito sees big things ahead for his young teammates.
"They're two English guys with a lot of future, and each game they are improving. We are getting more adjusted to the team, and it's getting better and better."
Habtoor managed to get out to the early 4-2 lead in most part because of their set plays. They won 17 of 22 total throw-ins, but in the first half they won throw-ins 4-0. That allowed them to have possession and create chances. However, beginning with the third chukker, Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres combo played their usual two-man game even more effectively than normal. One of them would run, with the other blocking, and then as soon as the block was successful he would fall in behind.
King Power Foxes took greater advantage of their chances as the game went on. After only making 2 of their first 6 shots, they converted 5 of their last 7. Habtoor’s inability to create chances in the second half resulted from the cohesive King Power defense pressuring Nico Pieres. In the final analysis King Power won by just controlling possession, which prevented Habtoor from stretching out the game at all.
Habtoor won throw-ins 17-5 but generated fewer scoring chances than King Power.
King Power shot 7/13 (54%); Habtoor 5/13 (38%).
After Habtoor got up 4-2 in the second chukker, King Power Foxes scored seven straight goals.
King Power outscored Habtoor 7-1 in chukkers 3, 4 and 5 (Habtoor shot 0/3 in that stretch).
King Power Foxes will play El Remanso in the final Sunday at 3 p.m.
All Photography by Snoopy Productions
All 2017 Gold Cup games are being live streamed on pololine.tv.
Complete tournament schedule and daily game locations can be found here.