Tomorrow’s Hurlingham Open final may have you feeling a bit jaded after years of watching Ellerstina and La Dolfina tear into each other, but really, when it comes to those two teams, there can’t be too much of a good thing. You don’t have to convince the Argentines of that. There is always a huge Ellerstina cheering section in the stands during their Triple Crown tournament finals, and if you ask random people wandering around the venue who they hope will win, you’ll often hear “Ellerstina” in a sort of wistful tone. Everyone loves an underdog.
But is Ellerstina really an underdog? They’re barrelling into the Hurlingham final as defending champion, with two consecutive wins. And even though La Dolfina has claimed 14 of the last 16 Triple Crown tournaments, Ellerstina has managed to torment them every step of the way—for example, when last season’s Argentine Open final went into excruciating overtime.
With each passing clash between these two juggernauts, Ellerstina seems to pick up something different that prepares them for the next encounter. While much hype surrounded this year’s Tortugas Open final, a slow start from Ellerstina saw them trail 3-0 early in the game, which ultimately proved their downfall, yet they went on to outscore La Dolfina 9-8 over the remaining six chukkers.
Coming into the second final of this year’s Triple Crown, what can Ellerstina do to take down La Dolfina? It’s not that much of a mystery. Their Achilles heel has been their inability to keep La Dolfina off the penalty line. In last year’s Argentine Open final, Ellerstina outscored La Dolfina from the field but handed La Dolfina nine penalty attempts, of which they converted eight. Similar problems arose in this year’s Tortugas final, with La Dolfina receiving six penalty attempts. That empowered them to outscore Ellerstina by two goals from the penalty line, and it ultimately make the difference in the game.
Of course, keeping La Dolfina off the penalty line is easier said than done. They lead the Hurlingham Open with 7.8 penalty attempts per game, a large margin over the next closest team, La Aguada, with 6.3. On the flip side, they are equally as impressive. La Dolfina commits the fewest number of fouls per game at just 4.8, making life even more difficult for Ellerstina to win the penalty shot battle—and that must be the Z’s focus tomorrow.
Ellerstina does have some factors in their favor, though. When it comes to open play, they have been the most impressive team in the tournament, averaging four more field goals per game than La Dolfina. Ellerstina currently ranks second in shooting (64 percent), and they’re up against an opponent that isn’t as efficient.
Still, Ellerstina is keenly aware that La Dolfina’s players are masters at dominating possession and mounting a superior defense quarterbacked by Juan Martin Nero, a stonewall if there ever was one. That produces a slew of interceptions and keeps the ball on the mallet of La Dolfina players. La Dolfina also wins more throw-ins than any team, which gives them additional possessions that often prove pivotal in the outcome.
After a disappointing conclusion to this season’s Tortugas Open, Ellerstina is hungry for the win, and that has been clear in how they have adapted over the season. With Gonzalito Pieres the only Ellerstina player to average more than 3.0 goals per game in the Tortugas Open, their offense has evolved since then. All four Piereses have contributed at a high rate in the Hurlingham Open, with each of them now averaging more than 3.0 goals per game. The more balanced offense they have honed in this tournament could prove to be just what Ellerstina needs Saturday.
Bottom line: Ellerstina has all the pieces in place to defeat La Dolfina but will need to continue to display an efficient offense, while at the same time remaining disciplined and clinging to the manta: “Don’t foul, don’t foul, don’t foul . . .”
HURLINGHAM OPEN: KEY STATS ON THE FINALISTS
The Hurlingham Open final (4 p.m. local time Saturday) will be streamed live on https://live.aapolo.com.
Photography: Helen Cruden