It was the newly-crowned Dutch world champions that won the first round of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup 2014 Final in Barcelona on Thursday. The Dutch team was the only one to end the competition on a clean sheet. Sweden ended up second on a four penalty score while Belgium, Canada and Germany tied for third on eight penalties. Only eight nations qualified for Saturday final competition, and the last three to grab a spot were Italy, Brazil and Great Britain.
Course designer Santiago Varela's track was a very technical one, and the further you got in the course the more difficult it proved to be. "You needed a balanced horse at the end of the course, that was the important thing" Varela explained about his track. Clears from the first two riders into the ring - Italy's Luca Moneta and Sweden's Peder Fredricson – quickly turned out to be two very strong performances, as only two of the other fourteen pathfinders managed to do the same with Yann Candele going clear for Canada and Olivier Philippaerts producing a clear round for Belgium.
There were only nine clear rounds in total through this first round of the final. Three of them belonged to the Dutch team, securing the top spot of the competition. Surprisingly, it was double world champion Jeroen Dubbeldam's score that was discharged as Zenith SFN (Rash R x Fuego du Prelet) lowered one pole and had a foot in the water. But in the end it proved not to matter at all as Maikel van der Vleuten on VDL Groep Verdi TN N.O.P. (Quidam de Revel x Landgraf I), Jur Vrieling on VDL Bubalu (Baloubet du Rouet x Nimmerdor) and Gerco Schroder on Glock's London N.O.P. (Nabab de Reve x Chin Chin) all rode clear rounds.
Dutch Chef d'Equipe, Rob Ehrens, was asked how the Dutch team returned so fresh just a month after the World Equestrian Games; "I think it's a matter of having four riders at this table who are extremely good and who take good care of the welfare of their horses. They have left out shows in which they might have liked to compete for their own benefit and for the benefit of their team and their country. They work with each other, they help each other and, if I can, I want to keep this team together for the next two years," he said with Rio 2016 in mind.
Asked what is the recipe for the success for Holland, Jeroen Dubbeldam said; "We have a fantastic structure from juniors all the way up to senior level, in all sports. They work hard with talented young people. The mentality in Holland is about not standing on top of the table when we win and not standing under the table when we lose!"
Although Thursday's competition was pure joy for some, others had to deal with disappointment. The US team finished just outside the top eight, as they were number nine on sixteen penalties. The same went for the host nation Spain that ended tenth with seventeen faults. Surprisingly France also had to see a spot in the final go as they finished eleventh on 24 penalties, surrounded by Australia, Qatar and Venezuela.
The Dutch will be the ones that everybody would like to beat in Saturday final. But with a format where all teams start out again on a clean sheet, everything is open and anything can happen.
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