USA CLAIMS SILVER MEDAL IN XII FIP WORLD POLO CHAMPIONSHIP
November 9, 2022
In a successful and monumental debut for the USPA-owned facility, the National Polo Center – Wellington (NPC) in Wellington, Florida, took center stage from Saturday October 29 through Sunday, November 6 with the global XII FIP World Polo Championship. The competition welcomed eight talented teams from across the world for ultimate international polo glory, including Argentina, Australia, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Uruguay, and the hometown team, the United States. Outfitting the teams with official performance jerseys and equipment as the Official Apparel Partner and Presenting Sponsor, U.S. Polo Assn. is proud to join forces once again with the FIP World Polo Championship to promote the brand during the pinnacle of international polo competition.
Visiting teams arrived by Wednesday, October 26 and drew one of eight evenly-matched strings of 22 horses provided by J5 Equestrian, then spent time leading up to the first day of competition riding and practicing them to develop strategies and decide who best to ride each mount. Bracket play began on Saturday, October 29 and the competition officially started in grand fashion with the Opening Ceremony at NPC’s U.S. Polo Assn Field One, which featured a team parade in classic cars and plenty of sideline spirit from eager spectators.
Over the course of the weeklong event, USA (Agustin Arellano, Lucas Escobar*, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar*, Jacob “Jake” Klenter*, sub. Hope Arellano*, alt. Joaquin Avendaño, alt. Nicolas “Nico” Diaz Alberdi*) and Spain (Nicolas “Tuki” Ruiz Guiñazu, Luis Domnecq Carrión, Pelayo Berazadi Rózpide, Nicolas Álvarez Cervera) rose to the top of the competition. Effectively mastering their horses and executing stellar teamwork to drive continued success each country captured a 3-1 record entering the final.
In their opening match, USA triumphed 9-4 over Australia, establishing their position as one of the tournament’s dominant competitors. A slight setback followed shortly after, falling to Italy 6-4. Desperate for a win in order to qualify for the semifinal round, USA worked tirelessly in a physically and mentally exhausting battle to edge out Uruguay 7.5-7. In USA’s semifinal match, Hope Arellano entered the playing field substituting for Jake Klentner. Making history, the 19-year-old polo phenom became the first woman to compete for the United States in an FIP World Polo Championship. Her addition to the starting lineup continued USA’s forward momentum without a hitch, allowing the two sets of siblings to emerge with an electrifying 9-8 overtime win against defending champions and competition favorites, Argentina.
Spain’s journey to the final mirrored that of the USA. An initial triumph over Pakistan 9-7.5 was followed by a dominant performance over Mexico 11-4.5. Already qualified for the semifinals by record, Spain suffered a small setback in their third match of bracket play falling to Argentina 6-3.5. The team in red and yellow, bounced back however and secured an assertive 10.5-7 semifinal win against Uruguay to earn their place in Sunday’s title match.
Prior to the Championship final, Argentina (Joaquin Sanchez Herrero, Tomas Delfino, Marcos Panelo, Tomas Marin Moreno, sub. Gonzalo Santamarina, sub. Santiago Buzzi, sub. Estanislao Abelenda, sub. Bartolome Fermin Bayugar) and Uruguay (Gaston Magariños, Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Santiago Stirling, Matias Carrique, sub. Mauricio Sanchez) met in the Bronze Medal match. Securing the lead from the start of the game and holding tight until the end, Uruguay grasped the FIP Bronze Medal 9-7.5, with a game-high four goals coming off the mallet of Gauntlet of Polo alum Nachi Viana. J5 Dolche (Open Chimento x Dulce), played by Uruguay’s Santiago Stirling, was named Best Playing Pony. Uruguay’s third place finish capped off an inspiring FIP World Polo Championship run for the team as it was their first time ever qualifying.
Shortly after, USA and Spain met on NPC’s immaculate U.S. Polo Assn. Field One in front of a sold out grandstand crowd. At the outset of play, an early Penalty 1 automatic goal in favor of Spain sparked momentum for the European team, with Guiñazú drawing first blood from the field. In response, Hope and Agustin Arellano combined forces in an outstanding display of teamwork to get USA on the scoreboard, ending the chukker with Spain holding just a slight 2-1 edge.
Digging deep to take control of the game in the second chukker, USA’s Lucas Escobar maneuvered his way to goal twice, while his brother Nico capitalized on Spain’s mistakes to successfully convert two penalties. Agustin Arellano added one of his own to make it a stand-out five-goal chukker for the hometown team as the stadium crowd erupted in deafening cheers. With just one goal off the mallet of Rózpide, the USA dominated to double up on Spain 6-3 at the end of chukker.
Eager for a comeback in the third, Rózpide and Guiñazú combined for two goals each outscoring the USA. Hammering down on defense, Spain held USA to just two field goals off the mallet of Nico Escobar. Effectively closing the gap between the two contenders, at halftime the USA led by only one, 8-7. Both teams hoping to replicate early success, the fourth chukker featured intense play and impeccable defense. Each team only able to score once, Nico Escobar made the first move with Rózpide responding to prolong the one-goal differential, now 9-8, USA still on top.
The fifth chukker serving as the final period of regulation play, Hope Arellano worked quickly to create more space between the USA and Spain with a field goal, but a series of mistakes from USA turned into game-changing opportunities for Spain. Rózpide first successfully converted a Penalty 2, followed by another from Carrión, landing his chance at goal late in the chukker to put the game in a 10-all deadlock and force overtime. Fierce play on both ends kept the match going through the overtime chukker’s halfway point, but a foul from USA gave Spain yet another penalty opportunity, which Rózpide masterfully scored sending the ball high above the USA defenders to capture Spain’s first FIP World Polo Championship title.
For his five-goal performance, golden goal and leadership on the field, Spain’s Pelayo Berazadi Rózpide was named Most Valuable Player. His third and fifth chukker horse, J5 Matilde (Open Picaro x @Matilde), was also awarded Best Playing Pony honors. A notable horse, J5 Matilde spent this past summer playing under Poroto Cambiaso at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California). Lucas Escobar, praising Rózpide’s leadership and Spain’s talent and teamwork, noted, “[It was] total war the whole game. They played amazing. We just couldn’t win it in the end. My hat goes off to them. They play really well with each other. [Pelayo Berazadi Rózpide] played amazing with the ball and the other guys work [well] for him. They have a really good system and it worked for them. We needed to stick to them just a little bit more, [but] we’re happy to be here. We wanted to be here for our country.”
Extremely grateful for the opportunity to represent the U.S., Agustin Arellano reflected on the tournament, sharing, “I had the time of my life getting to play with my sister and my dad coaching and Lucas and Nico have been nothing short of incredible. To be able to play with two [sets of] siblings on a team and to have my sister be the first woman ever to play has been incredible.” Also thankful to be involved and sharing how meaningful this experience was to her, Hope echoed, “This entire team has been such a beautiful thing to be a part of! I have met people from all over the world that will be friends for a lifetime. Thank you to everyone who made this so special, from the calls, texts, and the cheering on the sidelines. You have no idea how much it meant to all of us.”
An event that was years in the making, USPA Executive Director of Services Carlucho Arellano, similar to his niece Hope, expressed how meaningful the success of the competition was, especially after meticulous planning efforts. “One thing that I promised when the U.S. was still bidding to be the host of the world championship was that we would give the world the very best of the USPA—the very best horses we could find, the very best venue and the very best service. I think all of that planning really translates into good polo. When you do things well and organize things well, it has a trickle-down effect. By giving the players our best, they were able show us the very best of their talent.”
FIP Tournament Coordinator Felipe Del Sel, one of the many contributors who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help organize and execute the international event, also described his pride in being a part of the team to bring the FIP World Polo Championship to the U.S. “ I think that the event went smoothly and exceeded all expectations,” he explained. “FIP and the teams were really impressed with all the attention to detail and the level of fields, horses and accommodation. It was the perfect event to present the National Polo Center – Wellington to the world. The U.S. is a great place to host these types of international events and Wellington [Florida], being one of the polo capitals of the world, was the perfect setting.”
Incredibly pleased with the U.S.’s performance and hopeful for our country’s future in international competition, USA’s Assistant Coach Jesse Bray reflected on the experience. “In two of the last three FIP competitions, the U.S. has finished in second place, both in overtime. I have been part of both—one as a player and one as a coach. I know we are very close to bringing home gold,” he shared enthusiastically.
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PHOTO CREDIT: ©David Lominska