Riding on A splendid performance from Tommy Panelo, including a golden goal scored by the Argentine teenager in the extra chukka, Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s UAE Team snatched a stunning success in the final of the Emirates Open Polo Championship International beating Team Ghantoot in their backyard. The 18th edition of the tournament was held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Falah bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club (GRPC) on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi and Panelo was on fire for the UAE, scoring eight goals in the thrilling 10-9 success. His golden goal turned out to be the most valuable of his tally after the score remained deadlocked at nine goals apiece at the end of the regulation five chukkas.
Ghantoot had been beaten 8-6 by the UAE in the opening game of the tournament two weeks back, but they appeared on top form in the final as they led 4-2 going midway into the game. The UAE fought back to make it 5-4 at the end of the third and lagged behind at 9-8 going into the fifth and final chukka. Just when it seemed the cause was lost, 18yo Panelo struck the leveller, a fine backhand goal that forced the game into the extra chukka, where he once again made the difference handing the title to the UAE. Sheikha Maitha, who led the UAE side, which comprised Fede Pobosky and Nacho Acuna besides Panelo, admitted it was a nerve wracking affair. “This was one of the toughest and most enjoyable finals.
Minute for minute, play for play, goal for goal, there wasn’t a point during the game where we felt safe,” she said. “It was the most competitive, clean, fast and open finals I’ve experienced. Team Ghantoot is a force, super mounted with a lot of horsepower and last night was a horse race! It was so close. It could have gone either way and that’s what made it so exciting!” Professional Player of the Final, Panelo added: “This is such an amazing feeling, to win such a prestigious tournament is unbelievable. “Sheikha Maitha is a great team leader and continually inspired us to raise our game from the start of the tournament. I felt great today, full of confidence and I think that helped me deliver such a strong effort. “I could not have done this without the support from such talented players. Polo is not an individual sport, it’s all about teamwork and I think that’s where we excelled.”
Team Ghantoot’s Yousef bin Dasmal, adjudged Best Emirati Player of the Final, said: “Congratulations to Shaikha Maitha and her team. They played a good strategic game. We lost to them earlier but we came here determined to do better. The whole team played a fantastic match, it was touch and go all the way. But in sport there is only one winner and today it was UAE Polo Team.” The chief guest at the final was Sheikh Sultan bin Falah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the son of HH Sheikh Falah, the founder and chairman of GRPC. Also attending the event was Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Deputy National Security Adviser.
Ahmed Al Nuaimi, GRPC managing director, said: “Congratulations to the UAE Team and HH Sheikha Maitha on winning the 18th Emirates Open Polo Championship International. “It was a delight to see the positivity and skills that they brought to Ghantoot. It was clear for all to see that they were well prepared, fired up and gave 100%. “Ghantoot is proud to have hosted such a high quality tournament which featured some of the best polo players in the world, and the UAE. We will continue to support the sport of polo and we look forward to the New Year with great enthusiasm. “I would also like to thank all our sponsors for their continuous support, for without their backing, Ghantoot Polo & Racing Club would not be able to host such prestigious and exciting events. “I take this opportunity to wish all of them, our patrons, players, officials and fans, a very happy 2019!”