Arena Gold Cup 2017.
This weekend saw the start of the 21st Arena Gold Cup at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club. This 15 Goal tournament was first played in 1996, and is the principal Arena Polo Tournament in Europe.
The Arena Gold Cup is the most prestigious winter polo fixture, attracting top international players. As the leading Arena Tournament in world polo, the finals day is the highlight of the winter polo calendar.
The first round was completed on Sunday. Friday’s game saw SUPA Polo beat K-Law Imperial 21-15, and Saturday’s game saw Four Quarters beat Picazo Polo Stud 21-15.
Sunday’s first match was a nail biter between Sifani and Emlor. Hilali Noordeen’s 15 Goal Sifani team (Michael Henderson and Ryan Pemble) were drawn against 14 Goal Emlor (James McCarthy 2 goals, Terence Lent 3 goals, and Nacho Gonzalez on 9 goals). Giving away a handicap advantage Emlor started with goals on the board and within a minute had increased the gap. But Sifani were keen to close the gap and scoring successive goals (1-3 then 2-3), with four minutes of the chukka remaining, Pemble leveled the scores to 3-3. Emlor fought back and took the lead again with two and a half minutes left on the clock. Relentless pressure from Sifani resulted in a penalty but their attempt to run to goal was stopped. Great team play between Pemble and Henderson opened up Emlor and Pemble leveled the scores once again. The two teams were playing this match like it was the final and the adrenalin was clearly flowing fast. Emlor were awarded a penalty and scored again, 4-5, but Henderson made a run to goal and being foaled was awarded a penalty one. Level again. With thirty seconds left on the clock Emlor won a penalty but it was defended strongly and Henderson came away with the ball but his pass up the arena went out of play. However, Henderson came away with the ball from the throw in and tapped the ball into Emlor’s goal putting Sifani in the lead for the first time, 6-5. But Sifani were not allowed to hold their lead. In the closing seconds Emlor won a penalty and leveled the scores. As the clock ticked down Noordeen took the ball from the throw in and had a clear run to goal, but was just beaten by the hooter.
The second chukka started with a high hook resulting in a 60 yard penalty to Emlor. Gonzalez penalty taking was proving to be exceptional, but Sifani was equal in the pressure they were applying and were awarded a penalty one when a run to goal was obstructed. Sifani went one behind again after giving away another penalty, and with the scores at 7-8 the two teams locked horns, neither being able to break out of the midfield area. Finally it was Sifani that fouled. Gonzalez made the conversion of the 60 yard penalty look easy, and now Sifani found themselves two goals down, 7-9. Good work between Pemble and Henderson brought them back to within one goal. But pressure from Emlor was intense and Pemble had to defend hard. He won back the ball for Sifani but was blocked and unable to get out of his corner. The whistle blew and the ball was taken up to the centre spot. It was half way through the chukka and Sifani were desperate to level the score again. But the attack was defended strongly and Sifani found themselves pushed back into their own half. The ball got trapped in the corner and the referee stopped the play. Pemble won the ball from the line out and shot at goal. It just went wide, but the follow up got them the goal and crucially leveled the scores once again, 9-9. The next two plays illustrated just how closely matched the two teams were in terms of skill. Emlor won a penalty from the centre which Gonzalez put into the goal with pin point accuracy, 9-11. This was followed by an equally amazing long range shot by Henderson which brought the scores to 11-11. The chukka was in its final stages when Henderson broke free and ran to goal, but he was caught and under pressure lost the line of the ball, giving away a penalty. This relieved the pressure from Emlor and they were able to bring the ball back up the arena and, with half a minute on the clock, won a penalty. At 30 yards it was unexpectedly missed by Gonzalez. It was a let off for Sifani, but it seemed that Pemble couldn’t capitalise on this when he knocked the ball out. However, Emlor then committed a foul and Sifani this time ran to goal and scored, 12-11. But by the final hooter the scores were level again from a 30 yard penalty to Emlor.
The third chukka opened with the two teams inseparable. Sifani put intense pressure on Emlor in the first two minutes and eventually Emlor broke, giving away a 60 yard penalty. Pemble kept his cool and accuracy to take Sifani’s score up to 13-12. Emlor’s answer to this was a long range shot and suddenly Sifani were behind again, 13-14. Pemble had to use all his incredible horsemanship skills to gain possession and run to goal. He was awarded a penalty one when obstructed, so half way through the chukka the teams were drawn 14-14. At this point Sifani seemed to get their head slightly above Emlor’s. For the first time Sifani were able to dominate the play a little. It started with a 30 yard penalty to Pemble which put them in the lead. Gonzalez was unable to draw the scores from the penalty spot and Sifani scored again to go 16-14 in the lead. Emlor quickly responded to go 16-15, but Pemble matched previous long range goals by Gonzalez and Henderson to score from a centre spot penalty, 18-15. The pressure was showing on Emlor. A penalty awarded for a wild swing was upgraded to a penalty one after tempered complaining. Noordeen was doing great work for his team taking McCarthy out of the play, giving Henderson and Pemble a chance to dominate the chukka. Emlor won a penalty during a scuffle in their corner but the hit sent the ball out the arena and lost them the advantage. Sifani won the line out and charged down the arena towards Emlor’s goal. But they lost possession of the ball and Gonzalez once again showed his long range precision scoring a two pointer, 19-17. The chukka ended with both teams giving away a penalty and a goal apiece, 20-18. Sifani had a good period of dominance in this chukka but it was still anybody’s game.
The fourth chukka started with a 30 yard penalty going wide, but a back hander pass from Pemble to Henderson resulted in a goal, 21-18. It looked like Sifani were carrying on as they finished the previous chukka with great defense and counter attack from Pemble. He put pressure on Emlor’s goal but was not able to get the goal. Both teams scored bringing the tally to 22-19 and after taking a penalty from the centre a 30 yard penalty is given away by Sifani. Now with just a two goal lead Sifani found themselves heavily pressurized by Emlor. Inevitably the penalty was given away and the score went to 22-21. The two teams were going head to head, and the clock was into the last minute, when Lent broke free for Emlor. Ryan just couldn’t catch him to make the hook and Lent leveled the score, 22-22. Henderson came close to scoring when he took the ball across the face of Emlor’s goal, but he wasn’t able to get the all important goal. The ball became stuck and resulted in a throw in. But the clock was running down and the hooter sounded before Sifani could attack again.
So a fifth chukka and golden goal! Both teams looked exhausted having given 100% but now needed to draw on reserves. Sifani came out looking stronger. The ball went into a corner and Henderson punched the ball out with a back hander to Pemble. Emlor panicked as Pemble ran the ball up the boards and blocked him in the corner, giving away a penalty. At 30 yards the spectators thought it was all over, but the moment got to Pemble and his disappointment was evident when the ball went wide. Emlor attempted to get the winner with a dash up the arena. But when they took the play right to left to avoid Pemble they lost the line and gave away a penalty. The hit from the centre gave Sifani the advantage and Pemble passed the ball to Henderson who took it down the boards and turned in towards Emlor’s goal. The whistle blew when Henderson’s path was blocked and Pemble found himself again staring at Emlor’s goal from 30 yards. This time he settled his nerves, took a deep breath and put the ball cleanly between the posts to win the game for Sifani, 23-22.
Sifani’s next game is against Four Quarters (Simon Arber, Ollie Cudmore and Richard le Poer) on Tuesday 21 February.
The second match on Sunday saw Regal Warriors beat K-Law Imperial 23-16.
The semis are on Thursday 23, with the finals on Saturday 25 February.