Sunday 14th March, Eibar
XALA – ZUBIETA beat GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN 22-10
Pairs Semi Finals
In comparison with Saturday’s extravaganza at Labrit, the second semi final of the weekend was something of a let down, both in excitement and atmosphere. Given how much was at stake – an automatic place in the final awaited the winners – attendance was disappointing. Perhaps the Eibar faithful sensed the likelihood of a drab affair. This match could have been a tight one, pitting as it did two in-form pairs against each other. The bookmakers had Xala and Zubieta as fairly strong favourites, but with Laskurain, particularly, in stellar shape, the match could have gone either way. But one sided it was, and the excitement was all the favourites’, as they became the first partnership to clinch a spot at Atano III.
Xala and Zubieta gained the initial advantage but their rivals fought back to 7-8; it looked like an open contest which would come to the boil nicely over the next minutes. However, from this point on, the eventual winners imposed themselves in ruthless fashion, and much to the chagrin of the opposition and the neutrals, Gonzalez and Laskurain had very little answer. Gonzalez did not play his best, leaking seven errors and managing only three winners. In contrast, Xala hooked powerfully, only let two balls defeat him and turned in eight winners. Laskurain gave his all but was not as sharp as in previous weeks and could not match the power of Zubieta in defence. Once Xala and Zubieta had bent the game to their will, their lead never fell below four points, with 7-12 giving way to 10-14 and then 10-22. It was not quite a rout but from the mid point, victory was a foregone conclusion.
Xala and Zubieta can now look forward to the final at Easter with bullish confidence. They appear to have risen to the top in this competition at the best possible moment. The outcome of their game this weekend against Irujo and Beroiz is immaterial as they are through and their opponents, much to the surprise of many, are out. The real interest of the coming week will reside in the prospect of Gonzalez and Laskurain playing Titin and Pascual for the last grand final place in what promises to be an encounter of searing intensity. Titin and Pascual will be the likely favourites, and one suspects they are the pair Xala and Zubieta would be least happy about facing in the final, but in such matches form is wont to go out the window. Miss it at your peril.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 2-3, 3-7, 4-8, 7-8, 7-12, 9-14, 10-14 and 10-22.