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Samba In The Snow

The last time the sundrenched Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro saw snow was during the big freeze of 1985, but yesterday, 17,000 kilometres away on the snow-capped field of the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, a trio of horsemen from Brazil looked absolutely at home as they galloped to a spectacular victory in the grand final of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2015. Guilherme Lins (+5), Gustavo Garcia (+4) and Aluisio Vilela Rosa (+7) took apart an experienced USA side of Delmer Walton (+3), Thomas Biddle Jr (+6) and Mike Azzaro (+7) by 11-5 in four chukkas of frenetic and hot tempered snow polo.

In fact, Brazilian fans were already doing the samba before the third chukka had ended, their side up 11–2 and the USA absolutely unable to contain the devastating Gustavo Garcia, who time and again had led the Brazil attack, bursting through the blue shirted ranks with devilish aplomb. Garcia had been deadly from the start, kicking away in a flurry of snow to score directly from the throw-in. As soon as the Brazilian number one got himself back on the ball, he was off again, setting up Aluisio Vilela Rosa to make it 2–0. A visibly stunned USA were struggling to repel wave after wave of Brazil attacks, Tommy Biddle Jr. saving off the line but Brazil’s Guilherme Lins stepping up to roll in the subsequent penalty to make it 3-0.

Biddle rallied the troops in the second chukka, getting the USA off the mark with an early penalty. Gustavo Garcia replied with his second of the match as tempers flared. It was clear for all to see just how much this tournament meant to the two teams, the umpires stepping in to calm things down. Goals for USA’s Azzaro and Brazil’s Guilherme Lins made it advantage Brazil at the halfway stage, leading 5–2.

For all their endeavour, the cracks were starting to widen in the USA ranks by the third chukka, Gustavo Garcia showing pace and invention to win two penalties in two minutes, Lins scoring both to make it 7–2. The Americans continued to voice their frustrations to the referee, and paid the price by giving away another penalty, this time from fifty yards. In the ensuing melee Garcia broke clear yet again to thump the ball between the posts, his third of the match to make it 8–2. USA were in big trouble as their offence collapsed and Brazil broke away on the counter, this time Aluisio Vilela Rosa with the finishing touch to make it nine goals for Brazil. With two minutes left to play, Brazil became the first team in the tournament to reach double figures, Rosa finishing off another unstoppable Brazil attack. And then it was 11, Lins with the goal this time and the USA out of ideas as the third chukka ran its course.

Credit to the USA in the fourth and final chukka – they regrouped, closed the floodgates, and scored their third of the game after two minutes with a Tommy Biddle penalty. Delmer Walton restored another slice of USA pride with a fine run at goal to make it 11–4, before Mike Azzaro had the last word at the 30-second bell with his second of the match. But as the final buzzer rang out, Brazil’s Gustavo Garcia had already grabbed his country’s flag from a watching fan and galloped the length of the pitch in a jubilant victory celebration. 11–5 to the boys in yellow, unbeaten in the tournament, unstoppable in the final and champions for the first time after appearing in all four of the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cups to date.

Brazil’s number three Guilherme Lins was almost lost for words after the match. “We are so happy, now is a great moment for us to be world champions in snow polo. This is amazing, it’s too big for us.” Gracious in victory, Lins extended his congratulations to the USA side. “Mike [Azzaro] is an amazing player on grass, Tommy [Biddle] is amazing in the arena. We knew it would be difficult today but we tried to focus on our tactics to win. They played really well throughout this tournament.”

A disappointed Tommy Biddle put his side’s defeat down to tactics and a bit of bad luck. “We came up against a really strong team today, Brazil played exceptionally well. We had a bit of trouble with the footing, they seemed to get all the bounces and breaks, and we fell apart a little bit. We tried to take some fifty-fifty plays and that’s when they stretched the lead, but my hat goes off to them, they are unbeaten and well-deserved champions.”

In the post match press conference, Luis Lalor, General Manager of Polo at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, revealed his ambitious plans for next year’s tournament. “In the future we want to have more exposure with the national teams and we have a plan to go to 16 teams next year. With the improving snow here we can do it without any problem.”

In the awards ceremony after the Grand Final, Gustavo Garcia was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, with the award for the Best Pony going to Bagi, ridden by Brazil.

Earlier in the day, Argentina and France had played out the subsidiary final for third place. The free-running French trio had gone unbeaten in the tournament until their semi-final defeat against the USA; their opponents Argentina had grown in stature throughout after coming unstuck in their opening match against New Zealand, losing narrowly to Brazil in their semi-final. Photographers snapped away as the two sides lined up before the match, the snow clad field at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club framed by the elegant brownstone villas and apartments of Fortune Heights, Tianjin’s most exclusive address. And soaring above it all as the national anthems rang out, the mighty Goldin Finance 117, set to be crowned one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world when it tops out later this year.

It was the South American side who had the best of the first chukka, the ball bouncing kindly for Juan Echeverz (+6) to score Argentina’s opener. Jacinto Crotto (+6) followed up with a penalty goal, and then it was France’s turn to get on the attack, Brieuc Rigaux (+5) unable to finish off his thrusting run and bumping over the goal judge in the process. Juan Gregouli (+4) broke clear to make it 3–0 to Argentina early in the second, but finally France got off the mark, Rigaux showing trademark power, patience and skill as he kept the line and muscled through the Argentinean defence to score. Argentina soon regained their three goal advantage, however, Jacinto Crotto thwacking in a penalty to make it 4–1 at the halfway stage of the match.

Rigaux rallied the French troops with another powerful solo goal as the third chukka got underway, but Argentina responded in kind courtesy of a fine near-side backhand shot from Jacinto Crotto. Crotto then stretched the lead to four goals with a penalty to make it 6–2, France unsettled as they opted for a hopeful long ball after the restart. The only viable threat from the French occurred whenever Rigaux set off on one of his powerful runs; with 30 seconds remaining he did just that, forcing a penalty which Delfosse (+5) converted to make it 6–3 to Argentina going into the final chukka.

Rigaux continued to make a nuisance of himself in the fourth chukka, bullying his way toward the Argentinean goal again and winning a penalty which Clemente Delfosse tapped in as the three minute mark approached. But Jacinto Crotto was in inspired form himself, driving in his fifth and sixth of the match to make it 8–4. Rigaux forced yet another penalty, but the resulting goal from Delfosse wouldn’t be enough, Argentina claiming a well-deserved third place with an 8–5 victory.

So that’s it for the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2015, but the polo season has just begun at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, with several more exciting tournaments taking place in the coming months.

1st Brazil (+16)
Guilherme Lins (+5)
Gustavo Garcia (+4)
Aluisio Vilela Rosa (+7)

2nd U.S.A. (+16)
Delmer Walton (+3)
Thomas Biddle Jr (+6)
Mike Azzaro (+7)

3rd Argentina (+16)
Juan Cruz Gregouli (+4)
Juan Maria Echeverz (+6)
Hector Jacinto Crotto (+6)

4th France (+14)
Clement Delfosse (+5)
Patrick Primael Paillol (+4)
Brieuc Rigaux (+5)

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