Mano pairs: Bengoetxea and Beloki on top in Eibar

Sunday 1st February
Astelena, Eibar

It took Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki 75 minutes to defeat Yves Sallaberry and Aitor Zubieta last night in Eibar, in a match where the ball was struck 687 times. When his partner Aritz Laskurain injured his hand last week, Xala was united with Zubieta for this encounter in which they needed a point as a matter of some urgency. On the evidence of the past few weeks, they were clearly the weakest of the Aspe pairs, standing as they did in seventh place. Bengoetxea and Beloki were just as hungry, needing wins to have any chance of a semi final berth. This urgency on the part of both sides put this hard fought match into some sort of context. In the rather sparsely populated stands, a pensive and slightly grim faced Laskurain looked on as his partner and his replacement failed to do the job.

In the early stages, the match was perfectly balanced with winners from Xala and Bengoetxea combining with errors from Beloki and Zubieta, who both had early trouble finding their range from the back. However, with the score on 4-4, the Asegarce pair, tentatively at first, began to pull ahead, through some clever tactical play and impressive hooks and smashes from the manomanista champion Bengoetxea. The Asegarce forward has appeared to lack a gameplan in his matches thus far but here was dominant, countering the volleys of Xala and demonstrating his speed and agility in both defence and attack. He and Beloki looked ordered and well drilled and clearly knew what they had to do at every given point. For their part, Xala and Zubieta did not play a bad match. Bengoetxea and Beloki tried at various times to put the replacement defender under pressure but he proved himself a tenacious opponent. He made several errors but was not as weak as his opponents had hoped and is clearly a bright prospect for the future. Xala fought doggedly with Bengoetxea but the inspiration lay chiefly with the latter.

Both pairs remain in a perilous position in this competition, lying sixth and seventh respectively in the table of eight, but the Asegarce pair took the point which gives them hope. They will take some confidence into their next match against former leaders Gonzalez and Barriola. For Xala and Zubieta (Laskurain remains on the sidelines for another week), Sunday brings the prospect of defending champions and current leaders Olaizola II and Mendizabal II.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 3-2, 3-4, 6-4, 6-5, 10-5, 10-7, 11-7, 11-9, 15-9, 15-13, 16-13, 16-14, 21-14, 21-15 and 22-15

Oinatz Bengoetxea

Oinatz Bengoetxea

Written with the partial help of Diario Vasco as I only saw half of the match!

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