The final week of the Pairs Quarter Finals sees Asegarce down and out as none of their four couples qualify
The seemingly endless, and endlessly fascinating, Pairs Championship quarter finals came to an end this week as the semi final berths were allocated to the top four partnerships out of the starting total of eight. Two of the matches which took place over the weekend were dead rubbers, meaning that all eyes were on the encounters in Eibar and Covaleda, where Olaizola II-Mendizabal II, Berasaluze VIII-Begino, and Gonzalez-Laskurain fought for the one remaining place in the last four. We take a look below at how things played out.
On Friday in Covaleda, the slim hopes of Berasaluze VIII and Begino were dashed as they were beaten 22-10 by Titin III and Pascual. In order to progress, the Asegarce pair needed a big win, and then would have had to wait on the result of Sunday’s game in Eibar. In reality though, their hope proved a pipe dream as the Aspe pair took them apart. The atmosphere was electric but the crowd must have felt somewhat let down by the level of the match. With qualification assured, Titin and Pascual came out of the dressing room in relaxed mood and with a license to take risks. Their opponents realised the gravity of their situation and did not rise to the occasion, looking tense and increasingly desperate. There was no way back from a 6-0 deficit, and the Aspe lead was never cut to fewer than four points. The form of Berasaluze and Begino has been a grave disappointment throughout the championship. Although they have they well at times, they have appeared a shadow of the pair who finished top of the quarter final table last year. In contrast, Titin and Pascual have played a blinder and may be the pair to lay down the gauntlet to Irujo and Beroiz in the last four.
In the other crucial match, in Eibar on Sunday, Gonzalez and Laskurain beat Olaizola II and Mendizabal II 22-21. This was an unbearably tense affair, with the final place in the last four going to the winner, and it came down to the very last point of a gripping evening. When an error by Mendizabal gifted the prize to Gonzalez and Laskurain, the huge crowd erupted in appreciation for a match which had lived up to all expectations, despite the errors induced by nerves from all parties. The game was characterised by a near death defying comeback by Aimar and Oier, who at one point found themselves 5-15 adrift. Aimar has anointed himself the comeback kid over the past few weeks but this time it was too little too late for the 2008 winners and 2009 runners up. Their record in this championship of late has been an impressive one but this year they have failed to play as a unit. Aimar, always a formidable opponent, has been among the three best pelotaris in the competition but Oier has been erratic and has ranked as the worst of the players who have seen all the quarter final matches through. While there was heartbreak for them, Gonzalez and Laskurain leapt in jubilation. Both are protagonists who could fairly be described as ‘intense’ on the fronton, which made their public outburst of delight seem all the more joyous. Laskurain in particular, has had a splendid tournament thus far and will provide the solid rock in defence needed by his partner as the competition hots up.
In the first of the dead rubbers, table toppers Irujo and Beroiz beat Bengoetxea VI and Otxandorena 22-13 in Pamplona. This was something of a formality for the all conquering pair, who were in a different class to their beleaguered rivals. It is one of the major disappointments of this year’s championship that Oinatz Bengoetxea has failed to light up the stage as he can. The former Manomanista Champion is usually a terrier of the fronton, ferocious in defence and pugnacious in attack, but in recent weeks he has been lacklustre and appeared inhibited by doubt. His supporters, as well as many neutrals, will hope he regains his magic in time for this year’s edition of the Manomanista. He has surely been upset by the loss to injury of Beloki early in the tournament, for Otxandorena has failed to fill the experienced campaigner’s considerable void. Nothing has bothered Irujo and Beroiz however. Juan has marched on in his own inimitable way, the best player of the quarter finals, and Beroiz has defied his age and greenness in the first major tournament of his short career. They are clearly the pair to beat.
Meanwhile in Tolosa, Saralegi and Apraiz managed a 22-17 win over Xala and Arruti. The eventual winners were playing for pride only and they can hold their heads up high as they bid farewell to the competition. They were never meant to be in the fray in the first place, as they form the couple which began as Olaizola I-Patxi Ruiz, who both fell to injury, the latter in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. Their opponents had their semi final berth in the bag, and Asier Arruti replaced the solid but injured Aitor Zubieta for this coda to their quarter final campaign. Xala and Zubieta will head to the last four with confidence, having gelled as an extremely cohesive and efficient unit since the start of January.
The recriminations will continue throughout the coming weeks at Asegarce for despite having teams on paper every bit as strong as those from the rival empresa, their involvement in the championship is over. While Olaizola II played well, as did others at times, key components have failed. Mendizabal II is the most obvious weak link, as with greater form from him, his pair would have made the last four. Injuries have played their part, especially so in the case of Bengoetxea and Beloki’s well established partnership, but the Olaizola I-Patxi Ruiz pairing was not a happy one from the word go. Berasaluze and Begino lacked their usual consistency. All that remains now is for the Asegarce players and staff to sit back and watch their rivals play for the spoils, while hoping for a more positive Manomanista campaign.
For a ranking of the individual players in the Quarter Final stage, see here.
The semi finals commence on Saturday in Pamplona, where Irujo-Beroiz take on Gonzalez-Laskurain. On Sunday, Titin-Pascual play Xala-Zubieta in Logrono. I will publish times and broadcast information later in the week.
Image from: Aspe