After a typically brutal early start to the day at Heathrow before dawn, the Barcelona Polo Club scheduling committee had at least been on our side with our first game not until 17.35! The boys had time to settle in, play manhunt in the hotel (errrr) and support the other Guildford teams before getting down to business.
Although a smaller contingent of teams were touring this year, as the under 16s have been moved to the Senior part of the Polo Club tournament taking place in January, the atmosphere amongst the Guildford squad was still great and the pilot had kindly wished us luck on the plane over.
v Campo (Madrid)
We were in a group of 4 and it was vital for a medal chance to come in the top 2, so the 1st game against Campo A (normally a very strong medal contender) was going to be tough and vital. After a thorough warm up around the polo grounds, we started strong and fast and the high press placed the opposition under plenty of pressure.
Early on, Jack T forced his way into the D and took a lovely quick reverse stick strike from the top of the D, which their keeper just squeezed out. We controlled the game well for the first 15 minutes, keeping possession and pressing them high up the pitch. Multiple D entries followed and we had around 7 clean shots, but couldn’t get past a strong goalie. As tired legs crept in, Campo got into the game and became more threatening, having 3 to 4 shots on goal but they were well kept out by Oscar D. The game finished 0-0 and we were a little disappointed not to have broken the deadlock, but at least had gained a point.
v Jolaseta (Bilbao)
The second game against Jolaseta was at the Mediterranean time of 20.05 and after a round of chips (as well as other somewhat more nutritious food), the boys' energy levels were high and ready to go. The 1st goal came soon, with a quick ball taken by Sam G taking out their defender – he then fed it to Ollie de G W who did a lovely by-line run and passed it back to the P spot for Jack T to calmly slot it away.
A short corner soon followed, with a great 1-2 between Sammy D and Ollie de G W allowing Ollie to crunch the ball in. Ollie was then unlucky not to score after a great piece of skill, with a lovely ball-body move giving him space from his defender to undercut the ball, missing the right hand corner by inches.
Knowing that goal difference could be important to our group standing, the boys kept the control of the game and pushed hard. Zack K made a number of great D entries and didn’t stop pressing and James D made some telling runs down the right hand channel.
At another short corner, Jack T created space for himself and nailed the ball into the left hand corner, 3-0; the goalie had no chance as Jack smashed it so hard (this was to be a constant feature of his superb centre forward play all tournament).
We started to sit back a little and allowed Jolaseta to retain possession a little too much, they peppered our goal a fair bit and deservedly got 1 goal back from a similarly well-taken shortie. Sammy D seemed to take affront to this goal against, dispossessed 1 of their players, rounded 2 more and shot expertly into the left hand corner.
So we finished the game and the day with a well deserved 4-1 win, demonstrating the type of high intensity, fast game that we knew we could play. At the fines and awards session after (the proper) dinner that evening, Ollie de G W “won” the fines session, so he was (meant) to wear the wig and feather boa for tomorrow morning.
Men of the Match awards went to Jack T (for his scoring and box-to-box running) and Cole P (great tackling and strong communication), with honourable mention going to Oscar D (particularly for his saves in the Jolaseta game). DoD was awarded also to Jack T, for almost killing 2 of his own team mates in the 2nd game with some of his more wayward shots and undercuts!
v FC Barcelona
The second day dawned a little too early for most of us and the 1st game against FC Barcelona (wearing the Barca football colours!) we knew was the crunch match – they were level on points with us, had beaten Jolaseta by 5-1 so we knew a victory was the only way to ensure winning our group.
We calmed our nerves with a relatively early goal, where our high press won the ball in a dangerous situation, Sam G played a lovely 1-2 with Jack T, who again calmly scored the opener. However, Barcelona didn’t allow us to settle, with a huge, skilful centre half always a danger and Sam R played extremely well to effectively mark him out of the match and distribute away from trouble. Great defensive work by Archie P and Ben G ensured they didn’t get free down our left side.
However, a Barca overhead lob was thrown to evade our press, their centre forward for the first time managed to avoid the great defensive work by Cole P and Barney B, and they levelled the match at 1-1. The boys retained their composure, kept playing with the same style and regained control of the match.
Quick transfers by Cole and Barney stretched their shape, Archie P fed a ball through to Jack T. The goalie did well to save his tomahawk rocket shot, but the rebound went only as far as Sam G who showed that Jack is not the only one with a powerful hit – he volleyed it violently into the goal, 2-1 up!
The boys didn’t allow us to calm down though, with some concentration lapses allowing Barcelona back into the game. They finished the game with 2 consecutive short corners, with Oscar just deflecting the goal bound shot with his left leg guard and out of touch, into victory. We were through as winners of the group, destined to play the local team Polo, our nemesis in this age group 2 years ago.
v Polo A
We had seen Polo draw with a strong Sevenoaks team early on the 1st day, and although not appearing as strong as 2 years ago, we knew this was going to be a tough match. But a video analysis session earlier back in the hotel had given the boys some useful pointers to improve their play.
Polo’s passing speed was of a different calibre to our previous opposition and they had many skilful runners. We therefore weren’t in control of the possession as in prior games, with Polo scoring the 1st goal in a scrappy D melee. However, our speed of passing improved and good diagonal forward runs from Zack K and Ollie de G W created space for Jack T to run into.
A good through ball from Sam R found Jack T running towards the D, where he calmly rounded his man and had great composure to move the ball around the goalie to score: game on, 1-1. The local coach, who had knocked away our ball earlier to prevent a quick take, didn’t seem to enjoy my goal celebrations for some reason.
Polo, inevitably, came back strong and relatively quickly scored a good goal with a lovely shot from a quickly taken 5 yard hit. However, once again the boys showed real maturity to not get flustered and carry on playing our game. Ben G stopped many of their attacks down the left and with a great tackle freed Jack T on the half way line into space. Jack instinctively put the afterburners on, passed 3 people with his speed and skill into the D, where a reverse stick strike was only going one way – into the left hand corner!
The match finished 2-2 and so it was the dreaded penalty shuffles to decide it, with 3 shuffles per team. Polo’s 1st shuffle was well smothered by Oscar, but then Jack just missed the right hand post as he rounded the keeper. Ollie de G W equalised calmly with his, after Polo had coolly span the ball into goal, 1-1. Polo scored their next, leaving Sam G the unenviable task of taking the last. He had smashed every goal into the net in the warm-ups, so bravely stood up to take this one. Unfortunately, this screamer just went past the left upright so Polo had won and we were through to the Bronze, not gold/silver, medal match.
The boys were, understandably, deflated but after reflection, and some nice pizza and pasta back at the hotel, realised that they had played superbly in a very entertaining, high quality hockey match. They were also amused as their coach had “won” the fines that evening, mainly due to his inept timekeeping skills, so it was my turn on Sunday to wear the wig and fluffy, pink feather boa. Men of the match awards for Saturday went to Sam R (composure on the ball and great man marking) and Barney B (brilliant tackling and great distribution), while the DoD went to the Polo coach for his rather poor sportsmanship.
Bronze Medal match v FC Barcelona
So, possibly a final Barcelona Sunday for some of the squad and the chance of some silverware to take home, how were we going to fare against FC Barcelona (again!)? Energy levels were understandably low all round, so the warm ups were more focused but still acute.
And it showed, as we started strongly yet again and within 4 minutes had made 5 D entries but not quite converted. Everyone contributed strongly: Archie P made some telling tackles to disrupt their flow, Sammy D made a run all the way down the left hand line with a somewhat larger Barca player literally hanging off him. Barney B, late in the game, made a wonderful run up from the back to provide the overload which produced a great D entry by Sam G.
But once again, Jack T showed his wonderful value as he picked up the ball, with his defender on his shoulder, 10 metres outside the D. A strong diagonal run to the right, with a final burst of speed into the D, just gave him enough space to shoot quickly and very strongly – so strongly that the goalie didn’t have time to cover, with Jack squeezing it inside the right hand post. It wasn’t all one way as Barca played the aerial to good effect and that centre half again caused trouble, but I counted our 11 D entries to 5 against, which appeared to be a good reflection of the game. We had won, 1-0!
The boys had deservedly won a bronze medal, a fitting tribute to the fact that they didn’t lose a game in normal time and scored 9 goals with 4 conceded. Their team spirit was superb, their behaviour on and off the pitch was exemplary and they were a wonderful credit to themselves and to the club. All the coaches and supporting parents shared a brilliant weekend with them; a true Barca experience!
Matt Penney (head coach)
Brian Dunleavy (coach, video analyst extraordinaire)