Dubai: Fun, fashion and festivities formed a perfect prelude to the final of the Dubai Gold Cup Polo tournament. The title clash turned out to be a thriller in which UAE Polo defeated defending Silver Cup champions Habtoor Polo 9-8 in a sudden-death at the Al Habtoor Polo, Resort and Club in Dubai on Saturday.
In a fast-paced game, the first chukker produced four goals, with both teams opening the scoring early on before the UAE went ahead 2-1, only for Habtoor to level through a penalty.
The teams continued to press on but could not find the target until a brilliant counter-attack put the hosts Habtoor ahead. But their joy was short-lived as UAE equalised to end the second chukker 3-3.
UAE, led by Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Habtoor scored a goal each off free-hits, and there was very little to separate the teams. But a superb goal on the turn gave UAE a 5-4 lead at half-time.
The fourth chukker produced four goals. With five minutes remaining, UAE were leading 6-4, but Habtoor scored only for UAE to strike in the dying minutes to end the fourth chukker with a two-goal advantage at 7-5.
The final seven minutes turned out to be nerve-wracking. UAE were leading 8-7 with a minute remaining for the final hooter, but Habtoor polo equalised with 30 seconds remaining off a counter-attack to push the contest to the sudden-death sixth chukker.
The home team kept the 350-odd guests at the IFZA VIP Lounge and numerous fans on the edge when they went close to scoring the winner. But that was not to be as Habtoor Polo missed, only for UAE to score a few seconds later to win the prestigious 18-goal handicap tournament.
Shaikh Mohammed Bin Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave away the trophies to the winners.
“Very happy and proud to be part of the UAE team. Happy to finish the season on a high. There was no difference between the teams. It was just luck. When it goes down this far, it is the way it is. Luckily we had our chances; we took it, said the towering Tommy Beresford, who was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the final.
Talking about his height, Beresford said: “There are pros and cons. The height helps in longer reach, and I can hit it harder, but the horse is not going to be fast and agile. So I have to use my height to my advantage.”
“We knew it was going to be tough. Habtoor are a very good team. I wanted to thank Sheikha Maitha and everyone involved in the UAE Polo team for this victory. We are a good team, and the camaraderie among us helped triumph in the final,” said Jacinto Crotto, who showed total commitment and was credited for having covered every inch of the grass at the polo field.
The day began with Zedan Polo defeating AM Polo 11-9 in another sensational contest in the Ultra Millennium Cup.
In the semi-finals, UAE Polo defeated Abu Dhabi Polo while Habtoor Polo overcame Dubai Wolves By CAFU, runners-up in Hildon Cup, in an interesting clash between the father and the son. Mohammed Khalaf Al Habtoor, Patron of Habtoor team and CEO and Chairman of Al Habtoor Group, has professionally played in international tournaments and founded the Dubai Gold Cup polo tournament in 2009. Mohammed Al Habtoor won against his son Habtoor Al Habtoor, Patron of Dubai Wolves By CAFU.
Brilliant, the polo of Habtoor star Bautista Bayugar, was selected as the Best Playing Pony of the contest.
UAE Polo: Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Lucas Monteverde Jr, Tommy Beresford, Jacinto Crotto.
Habtoor Polo: Mohammed Khalaf Al Habtoor, Matias Gonzales, Juan Juaretche, Bautista Bayugar.
AM Polo: Sheikha Alia Al Maktoum, Pablo Urquiza, Benjamin Urquiza and Alejandro Muzzio.
Zedan Polo: Amr Zedan, Gonzalo Ferrari, Manuel Plaza, Tomas Panelo.