La Dolfina overcame all the adversities it faced in the 2020 season and came back to conquer the Argentine Open for the eighth consecutive year.

The season began with its four players facing serious physical problems as it prepared to play the first two competitions of the Triple Crown. Even after the players were healthy, the struggles continued with a lack of rhythm for the most important of the tournaments. All the while, the team looked to the horizon with a farewell poster after 10 years for one of the most successful formations in the history of polo.

La Dolfina started the Argentine Open as it has never done since its creation: full of unknowns. But it finished it as it usually does: as champion.

The year had started with Juan Martín Nero’s collarbone and left wrist fractures; then Pablo Mac Donough and David Stirling suffered muscle tears. Adolfo Cambiaso was playing with a cracked rib, and then in Palermo he suffered a muscle tear in his right shoulder.

After the team’s complex appearances in the Tortugas and Hurlingham Opens, the team from Cañuelas began to regain its confidence with solid victories against La Irenita (20-11) and La Irenita II (24-9). It was challenged again by RS Murus Sanctus this season and was again defeated (14-13), but cleared up any doubts about its aspirations with a master class of polo in its last match against La Natividad (21-10), confirming a spot in the final.

Ellerstina was the exact opposite. With a superlative 2020, the Tortugas and Hurlingham champion aspired not only to glory in Palermo, but to the Triple Crown. Playing at a very high level against Los Machitos (25-10), Cría Geté (19-7) and La Ensenada-La Aguada (15-4), it unexpectedly hit a speed bump in its group definition against La Dolfina Polo Ranch, requiring extra time to overcome the team. At the most inopportune moment, the quartet from General Rodríguez sowed a small outbreak of uncertainty in the very preview of the most important game of the year.

The beginning of the final was very low scoring, something we are not used to with these two huge teams. Perhaps the wind (with gusts of more than 30 mph) did not offer the most pleasant of components to deploy the best possible polo. The poor condition of the field certainly didn’t help. The many chukkers already played on its surface left it extremely imperfect.

The clash itself was even and emotional, with touches of Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres, both to score and assist their teammates. The first big difference was for La Dolfina, that doubled up Ellerstina, 6-3, in the third chukker. However, the team seemed to run out of gas, going three straight chukkers without any goals for the first time in a Palermo final. Ellerstina seized the opportunity, bringing the game to a draw, 6-6.

Teams

     

La Dolfina Saudi:40

Adolfo Cambiaso 10
Pelon Stirling 10
Pablo Mac Donough 10
Juan Martin Nero 10

Ellerstina Johor: 39

Facundo Pieres 10
Hilario Ulloa 10
Gonzalo Pieres Jr. 9
Nico Pieres 10

La Natividad Las Monjitas 36

Camilo Castagnola 8
Polito Pieres 10
Bartolomé Castagnola Jr. 9
Ignatius Du Plessis 9

RS Murus Sanctus: 35

Facundo Sola 9
Francisco Elizalde 8
Sapo Caset 10
Alfredo Cappella Barabucci 8

La Dolfina Polo Ranch:33

Guillermo Terrera 8
Juan Britos 8
Deigo Cavanagh 9
Alejo Taranco 8

 

Los Machitos: 31

Agustin Merlos 8
Ignacio Toccalino 8
Mariano Aguerre7
Santiago Toccalino 8

Cría Geté: 31

Valerio Zubiaurre 8
Cristian Laprida Jr 8
Tomás Garcia del Rio 7
Ignacio Laprida 8

La Irenita: 30

Martin Podestá Jr 7
Facundo Fernández llorente7
Juan Martín Zavaleta 8
Juan Martín Zubía 8

La Ensenada-La Aguada: 29

Segundo Bocchino 6
Alfredo Bigatti8
Matías Torres Zavaleta 8
Jerónimo Del Carril7

La Irenita II: 29

Santiago Loza7
Tomás Fernández Llorente7
Juan Ruiz Guiñazú 8
Pedro Falabella7

 

Ellerstina managed to take a first-time lead in the seventh chukker, 8-7, helping its confidence. But, the key moment came with 5:35 left in the last period. Nero was the protagonist. He fully recovered in the nick of time, allowing him to appear in Palmero, on the corner of Libertador and Dorrego Avenues. He gave it his all at just the right moment. Born in Trenque Lauquen, Nero put together his initiative with time, patience and wisdom, and leveled the action at 8-all. La Dolfina calmed down and continued the work Nero started. Cambiaso let go and scored two more goals in the decisive chukker to decide the match, 10-8.

The numbers for this formation that disbanded after this campaign will have a preponderant role in the books of sports statistics. Since the four started playing together in 2011, they have played all the Argentine Open finals, losing just one (2012) and winning the Triple Crown three times in a row (2013, 2014 and 2015).

La Dolfina, created by Cambiaso in 2000, won its 14th title in Palermo as a team and reached 20 of 21 finals. It only missed out on the final in 2004. For the 45-year-old Argentine star, it was his 17th Open title in 24 finals. He has competed in the tournament 28 times since 1992 (he didn’t play in 1993). This win allowed him to join the podium of the most winners: he shares third place with Alberto Pedro Heguy. Higher up, with 19, is Horacio Antonio Heguy, and with 20, Juan Carlos Harriott Jr., all players of the mythical Coronel Suárez team.

As for his teammates, Mac Donough and Nero added their 11th celebration at The Cathedral while the Uruguayan Stirling celebrated for the 9th time, increasingly establishing himself as the most successful foreigner in the competition.

“It was an award that we deserved. It was a difficult, terrible year for La Dolfina. We all broke down. I was the only one who participated in all the games. Juanma (Nero) had a terrible year. In September, the outlook was not easy. But luckily, it ended up being a year to celebrate, to enjoy,” Cambiaso explained while he waited to get on the podium. He added about the final match, “The pitch did not help either [for] both, and the team that played a little better in the last chukker and scored the goals when it had to be scored ended up winning. Ellerstina had a great season, but we were able to play Palermo with the four starters and that gave us the chance to win.”

On the opposite side, Facundo Pieres oscillated between several states: frustrated, satisfied, angry and auspicious. “On the one hand, I am still angry for losing a game that could have been won and on the other hand, you realize that it was a good year. We had few weak games and we lost only one in the whole season, which we could have easily won … It is a double feeling of satisfaction because the team is well, and that leaves me very calm for the future, and also of annoyance because the biggest goal was Palermo and it just escaped us there.”

Where the Ellerstina striker certainly isn’t happy at all is with the umpiring. “Cambiaso was sent off in the Hurlingham semifinal for saying things to the referees. He was not punished with the same rigor in the final in Palermo. Things that were said at Hurlingham were more out of tune and with harsher comments, which should have been punished much more severely,” he said. “All of us who watched the game on television saw and heard everything that happened. It was very clear. Things happened that came to nothing and in the end the referees ended up favoring the person who had been complaining the most at the beginning of the season. That bothers me. It’s a bad sign for polo.

“I don’t think it is a problem of the players, but of the referees, of the person who manages the referees, of the Disciplinary Commission and of the polo association. I know that the comment can generate controversy and it is directed to Adolfito, but it is what I saw and it is what I think. I think the association has to make a self-criticism. As a polo player, I am very angry ... In the final, the referees were more influential than they should have been. Their calls did not seem at all impartial to me.From my point of view, they tipped the pitch. There were fouls that were charged for one team and not for the other.”

Beyond controversies and complaints, in the most atypical year of all—a pandemic, injuries, not seeing the Fab Four play together until Palermo, and in their last and 10th season—Cambiaso, Stirling, Mac Donough and Nero once again increased their legend and won their ninth title on the main stage, their eighth in a row. In the final analysis of the magnitude of this quartet there is clearly no possible discussion or physical problem that minimizes one of the most momentous achievements in polo history.

     
 

The road to Palermo

Eight teams fill the roster for the Argentine Triple Crown. Those teams play off in the first two legs: the Tortugas and Hurlingham Opens. Meanwhile a Classification Tournament is played with teams divided into two zones. The winner of each zone earns a spot on the roster for the final leg, the Argentine Open. Cría Geté and La Irenita II led their zones, winning tickets to the 127th Argentine Open.

In Zone A, the Laprida brothers’ team (with Valerio Zubiaurre and Joaquin Pittaluga) had some problems in its debut, but managed to recover to get the two victories that ensured the entrance to Palermo. Against La Cañada (Genero Ringa, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Victorino Ruiz Jorba, Martin Aguerre), it initially led by up to five goals, but ended up winning by just one. It must be said, the team suffered some physical problems among the players. Cristian ‘Magoo’ Laprida, the most important figure, started the game as a substitute due to an ailment, but had to enter at the beginning of the second chukker for Pittaluga, who came out with a small muscle tear.

Its second match against Coronel Suárez (Felipe Vercellino, Marcos Araya, Ignacio Negri, Deigo Araya), was easier, as it won by a comfortable 15-8. Tomas García del Rio, who was playing for Magoo in the first game, replaced the injured Pittaluga in the second. But, there were no doubts about its superiority. Iñaki Laprida capitalized on his opponent’s lack of concentration and the enormous number of fouls committed by Coronel Suárez to convert 10 penalties and seal its return to the main stage.

For its part, in Zone B, La Irenita added a second team to the most important event of all thanks to the fantastic campaign of Santiago Loza, Tomás Fernández Llorente, Tito Ruiz Guiñazú and Pedro Falabella.

In its debut, it defeated La Esquina (Pascual Sáinz de Vicuña, Juan A. Garcia Grossi, Lucas James, Bautista Bayugar), 13-11, and later imposed its youth against Alegría’s (Gringo Colombres, Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario, Sebastián Merlos, Frederick Mannix) experience. Merlos and Mannix did not have their best contest and the team fell twice.

In its opening match, the teams were level after the first chukker but La Irenita II managed to take control. In the next match, Alegría needed to win by three goals, which it had in the first chukker, 4-1, but La Irenita II took the lead in the third and held on to it for a 14-12 win to qualify.

 
     

 

By Lucas Noel
Photos by Sergio Llamera

    Awards

  • La Dolfina

    • Team Members

      Adolfo Cambiaso 10 (6 goals scored, including three penalties, one safety), David Stirling 10, Pablo MacDonough 10 (3 penalties), Juan Martín Nero 10 (1). Total: 40.

    Ellerstina

    • Team Members

      Facundo Pieres 10 (6) (received a yellow card in the third chukker), Hilario Ulloa 10 (1), Gonzalo Pieres Jr. 9 (1), Nicolás Pieres 10. Total: 39.

    Score by Chukker

    • Facundo Pieres 10 (6) (received a yellow card in the third chukker), Hilario Ulloa 10 (1), Gonzalo Pieres Jr. 9 (1), Nicolás Pieres 10. Total: 39.

    Umpires

    • Umpires

      Guillermo Villanueva and Martín Pascual.

    • Third Man

      Gastón Lucero

    Awards

    • Gonzalo Heguy MVP Award: Adolfo Cambiaso

      Javier Novillo Astrada Top Scorer: Adolfo Cambiaso (45 goals)

      Rubén Sola Young Player Award: Jerónimo del Carril

      Fomento Equino Cup Best Mounted Player in the Final: Adolfo Cambiaso

      Gonzalo Tanoira Award Best Mounted Player of the Tournament: Adolfo Cambiaso

      Fair Play Award: David Stirling

      Lady Susan Townley Best Playing Pony: Adolfo Cambiaso’s Dolfina B09 (Cuartetera clone)

      Polo Argentino Best Playing Pony: Adolfo Cambiaso’s Dolfina B06 (Cuartetera clone)

      Sociedad Rural Argentina Best Playing Pony: Adolfo Cambiaso’s Dolfina B06 (Cuartetera clone)

 

 

 
 
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