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The semi-finals are set

Yesterday the last semi-finalists of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2014 emerged. Now the semi-finalists are fixed: Hong Kong / China, Brazil, Chile and England won their matches and will compete tomorrow to make it to the final.

Hong Kong / China vs. USA
Defending champions Hong Kong China may have ensured their progress to the semi-finals of the Snow Polo World Cup, but for much of an explosive quarterfinal match-up they were chasing the Americans, and it took a penalty shoot-out to decide the victors.

The first of four chukkas was an absolute belter, Hong Kong China opening the scoring with a 20-yard penalty tapped over by John Fisher. USA’s Thomas Biddle Jr. followed up with a wonderful goal; the powerful number three showing great control to connect with his own lofted pass and score. Good stick control at the boards by John Fisher saw the Hong Kong number three cut the ball infield and run in a goal to make it 2 – 1 to Hong Kong China. Seconds after the throw-in, USA’s number one Del Walton turned on a sixpence to score, and Thomas Biddle Jr. added another at such pace the spectators could barely keep up. Fisher levelled the scores at the end of the chukka with a 30-yard penalty, leaving the game balanced and breathless at three goals each.

USA flew out of the blocks in the second chukka, converting two quick goals to pull away from the defending champions. Guillermo Terrera sneaked the ball out of a ruck in the corner to pull a goal back for Hong Kong China as the game began to settle. No further goals in the second chukka meant it remained advantage USA at the halfway stage of the match, leading Hong Kong 5 – 4.

Thomas Biddle Jr. thumped home a penalty at the start of the third to put USA two goals ahead. The Americans were keeping their opposite numbers tightly marked, Hong Kong China pushing and probing but struggling to find an opening. Eventually winning a penalty, Hong Kong China’s John Fisher pulled it wide. Nerves were creeping in as the usually accurate Fisher then missed a second penalty opportunity. So at the end of three chukkas, USA were up six goals to four; Hong Kong China needing to dig deep in the final six minutes.

John Fisher made no mistake with a hit from the spot at the start of the fourth, and finally the equaliser came, Terrera and LLorente combining to bundle the ball between the posts. But USA’s Thomas Biddle Jr, in rampant form all match, galloped cross-field to blast the ball in between the posts and put USA a goal ahead close to the three-minute mark. Hong Kong China hung in there, however, their number one Guillermo Terrera squaring the scores with a penalty to send the game to a shoot-out.

In the first exchange of penalties it was nervous stuff for both sides as USA’s Thomas Biddle Jr. put his left of the posts, and John Fisher rolled his wide to the right. USA missed again with their second but Hong Kong China scored, so the pressure was on USA’s Pelon Escapite as he trotted up for his side’s third penalty. He made no mistake, which meant that Guillermo Terrera, the tournament’s highest rated player, had the chance to put his team through to the semi-finals. He did so, to the whoops of the home crowd, and the disappointment of the Americans.

Brazil vs. Mexico
After a tense opening five minutes, Brazil’s number one Gustavo Garcia claimed first blood with a superb goal taken wide then tucked inside the far post. Julio Gracida replied for Mexico with a thunderous shot from the ruck at the end of the chukka, to level the scores at one each.

Brazil’s Renato Junqueira broke away to score early in the second, then play stopped for several minutes as Julio Gracida left the field nursing an arm injury. On came Mexican substitute Diego Solorzano, and play resumed with Brazil’s number two Rodrigues tapping in a third goal from the spot. Carlos Gracida pulled a shot wide at the 30-second bell, and at the end of the halfway mark Brazil were leading 3 – 1.

Trailing by two goals and fielding a substitute playing for the first time at the Snow Polo World Cup, an uphill battle was on the cards for Mexico, especially when Brazil pushed further out in front in the third chukka with Rodrigues scoring a simple tap in from the spot after a penetrating attack to make it 4 – 1. But the veteran Carlos Gracida rallied his troops and pulled a goal back for Mexico at the 30-second bell, and then substitute Solorzano notched a lightning quick third to set up a final chukka with just a single goal separating the teams.

Brazil scored from a penalty at the start of the fourth chukka, but Mexico’s Valerio Aguilar latched on to a wonderful approach shot from Carlos Gracida to pull a goal back. Then at the four-minute mark, Aguilar rolled in another to put the scores all square at five each. The decisive breakthrough came with 19 seconds left on the clock, Brazil winning a 30-yard penalty. Defending the goal, Carlos Gracida got his stick to the ball but couldn’t keep it out, Brazil scoring to win the second quarterfinal of the Snow Polo World Cup 2014 by six goals to five.

Leaving the field, Brazil’s William Rodrigues was delighted with his team’s performance. “It was a very tough game with no clear favourites, and Mexico have a true legend in Carlos Gracida,” said Rodrigues. “But we played very well as a team, and now we have a tough semi-final ahead of us against Hong Kong China.” Does Rodrigues think Brazil have it in them to beat the defending champions? “Yes they are the favourites but we are Brazil, and Brazil always plays to win. We will give it our all.”

New Zealand vs. Chile
It was New Zealand who took command early on, edging the play in the first of four chukkas. Young Tom Hunt was in fine form, leading from the front and smashing home two early goals for his side. Matias Vial stepped up for Chile, spurring them on to earn a tap in penalty and close out the chukka 2 – 1 to New Zealand.

Chile flew out of the blocks in the second chukka, an explosive charge from the throw-in resulting in a goal from the stick of Juan Jaramillo. Chile then stole out in front halfway through the chukka with a long-range strike from Ignacio Vial Mazieres that crept over the line, but Sam Hopkinson levelled the scores with a penalty. A penalty to Chile, stroked in by Matias Vial, put the South Americans ahead; the final bell denied them another, and at the halfway stage of the match the scores were 4 – 3 to Chile.

With the wind behind him, Sam Hopkinson equalised for New Zealand with a galloping solo goal at the start of the third chukka. The irrepressible Matias Vial broke the deadlock from a penalty with a minute remaining, giving Chile the advantage going into the final chukka leading 5 – 4.

New Zealand’s Tom Hunt scored his third of the match with a well-taken goal in the opening minute of the fourth chukka to level the scores. Decisive counterattacking from Chile earned them an open goal penalty, Vial making no mistake. New Zealand had a minute and a half left in the match to reply; they did, a charge at goal earning them a penalty, which Sam Hopkinson rolled over the line with 17 seconds left on the clock to send the game to a penalty shoot-out.

It was New Zealand’s fourth penalty shoot-out of the tournament, a mark of just how close the polo has been so far. But with Hopkinson needing to score his team’s third and final penalty to stay in the competition, his shot had the accuracy but not the distance, falling agonisingly short of the line and sending Chile through to the semi-finals.

England vs. France
After a tense opening, France’s number one Clément Delfosse broke away from the pack to open the scoring. Strong polo by England’s Jack Richardson earned a tap in penalty, which Max Charlton rolled in to level the scores, England one, France one.

A bright start for France in the second chukka won them a penalty, but in a let-off for England, the shot didn’t have the legs, stopping inches from the line. Next came a good goal for England, Max Charlton connecting with a searching long ball to stroke it home. Determined counterattacking by France saw Delfosse level the scores at the bell to make it 2 – 2.

Jack Richardson and Max Charlton combined well to score a third goal for England at the start of the penultimate chukka. An exchange of penalties saw England’s Max Charlton pull his wide; France lifted theirs high and true, to make it three goals each going into the deciding chukka.

An injury to England’s Max Routledge interrupted play for several minutes in the fourth chukka. On came English substitute Richard De La Poer, play resuming with less than four minutes remaining. The French number three Brieuc Rigaux finally broke the deadlock with a thunderous shot from range that swerved inside the far post. With 30 seconds left in the match, England put themselves back in the contest, Max Charlton scoring from a 30-yard penalty to make it four goals each and his fourth of the game, and force another penalty shoot-out.

With both sides scoring two penalties out of three, the shoot-out went to sudden death, where the defending side is allowed a player and pony between the posts. Max Charlton and Brieuc Rigaux pulled their penalties wide, but England’s Jack Richardson kept his nerve to score, putting the pressure on France. Pierre N’Goumou struck the ball accurately but Richardson got his stick in the way, saving the shot and putting England through to the semi-finals of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2014.

Speaking after the match, England’s Jack Richardson admitted it had been a incredibly close contest. “France are a very good team and they scored a great goal in the final chukka, but we got one back and when it goes to penalties it’s anyone’s game. So we are delighted to go through and play Chile for a chance at the final.”

The semi-finals of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2014 will take place on Saturday 18 January. Chile will play England in the second semi-final at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club on Saturday, with Hong Kong China and Brazil doing battle in the first semi-final on the same day.

The teams:
Australia (+16)
Edward Goold (+4)
Kelvin Johnson (+5)
John Baillieu (+7)
Brazil (+16)
Gustavo Garcia (+4)
Willian Rodrigues (+6)
Renato Junqueira (+6)
Canada (+15)
Brandon Phillips (+5)
Marcelo Abbiati (+5)
Todd Offen (+5)
Chile (+16)
Ignacio Vial Mazieres (+4)
Juan Eduardo Jaramillo (+6)
Matias Vial (+6)
England (+16)
Max Routledge (+5) / Richard De La Poer
Jack Richardson (+5)
Max Charlton (+6)
France (+14)
Clément Delfosse (+4)
Pierre-Henri N’Gournou (+5)
Brieuc Rigaux (+5)
Hong Kong / China (+16)
Facundo Fernandez Llorente (+4)
John Fisher (+4)
Guillermo Terrera (+8)
Mexico (+16)
Julio Gracida (+5) / Diego Solorzano
Valerio Aguilar (+5)
Carlos Gracida (+6)
New Zealand (+16)
Angus McKelvie (+5)
Christopher Brooks (+5)
Sam Hopkinson (+6)
Reserve: Tom Hunt (+5)
South Africa (+16)
Chris MacKenzie (+5)
Leroux Hendriks (+5)
Gareth Evans (+6)
Spain (+16)
Mario Gomez (+4)
Pascual Sáinz de Vicuña (+6)
Martin Ituarspe (+6)
USA (+15)
Del Walton (+3)
Pelon Escapite (+6)
Thomas Biddle Jr. (+6)

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