On the second day of competition the thousands of spectators and the world’s media were certainly not disappointed as, judging on yesterday’s performance, the two strongest teams of the tournament lined up for the throw in under the midday sun. The red shirts of St. Moritz and the Brit duo of Max Charlton and Nacho Gonzalez fresh from their 8-4 defeat of Maserati yesterday looked like the team to watch. But not to be forgotten were the collective talents and jackal like attacks of Team Azerbaijan – Land of Fire. Friday’s match against Badrutt’s Palace had seen them make short work of their opposition with Badrutt’s failing to fire up, whilst Azerbaijan had truly found their afterburners which resulted in a clear win and high hopes for today’s Semi Final for the La Martina Cup.
As the UK’s only 10 goal arena polo player Max Charlton brings (in the words of Liam Neeson in Taken) a “Particular Set of Skills” to the snow polo arena, ably abetted by fellow Brit and snow polo maestro extraordinaire, Nacho Gonzalez. Both play with finesse, using fluently aggressive and great use of the side boards in particular, to result in a spectacular display of polo. Today was certainly Charlton’s day, as he flew up and down the field, managing to score five out of his team’s final tally of six goals.
Starting with a half goal advantage, Azerbaijan initially looked strong with their Captain Elchin Jamalli storming straight out of the line-up and scoring. But St. Moritz were not intimidated and set about dampening the flame of attack from Azerbaijan Land of Fire. It was a truly spectacular game, with fantastically close marking, clean and fluid play with little whistle from the two mounted umpires. Our commentator, Jan-Erik Franck quite rightly called it, “High class polo” and how right he was. The red shirts of the St. Moritz team worked well, dominating the play and stamping their authority with the half-time score reflecting their dominance at 3-11⁄2.
Truly remarkable polo and end-to-end-action
After a half-time talk and regroup, the Azerbaijan line-up became more effective, with Agustin Kronhaus making himself useful alongside the flamboyant skills of Pato Bolanteiro. The result was some truly remarkable polo. Time flew by, as goal was answered by goal as the Azeri team clawed themselves back into contention. It was end-to-end action as Kronhaus and Jamalli chipped away at the St. Moritz lead. But with Charlton seeming to have stolen their fire it was not enough and the red shirts of St. Moritz claimed the first slot in Sunday’s Final with a score of 6-51⁄2. Speaking to Gonzalez after the match he commented: “We were worried going into the game today, the first chukka they were strong but then we got a couple of goals and it all changed from there!” However, having convincingly beaten Badrutt’s Palace yesterday, Azerbaijan – Land of Fire are still in with a chance – making the second match of Saturday, all to play for.
Due to the large goal differences in the matches yesterday and the complex calculations of points awarded and goals conceded, the result is that in a somewhat unexpected turn of events because Azerbaijan Land of Fire lost the first Semi Final game by such a small amount it meant that in the second match of the day, either Badrutt’s Palace or Maserati had to win by a margin of at least four goals to secure a place in the Sunday’s Final.
So, it was with determination to make tomorrow’s big event that both teams came out with their polo guns blazing in a bid to secure their place in the Final. A last-minute line-up change for Badrutt’s Palace saw a double dose of Ganzi magic as Marc replaced Juan Bautista Peluso for today’s big game. Maserati started with a 21⁄2 goal advantage due to handicap difference and they held on to this lead throughout the game with strong and solid play resulting in good fast polo. It was still anybody’s game with a score of 31⁄2-1 at half-time. Both team captains played well, with Kutlay Yaprak and Melissa Ganzi both slotting home penalties for their sides in the second half. Despite the 8 goal magic of American International Nic Roldan and the best goal of the tournament so far, played by Alejandro Novillo Astrada on the nearside down the majority of the length of the field it was not Badrutt’s Palace’s day and it was a case of, a too little too late. So the polo gods had spoken, and Maserati defeated 2019 champions Badrutt’s Palace 41⁄2-3 for the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Challenge.