Saturday 7th August, Vitoria-Gasteiz
XALA – BARRIOLA beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BELOKI 22-16
Torneo Virgen Blanca
Yves Salaberry and Abel Barriola pulled a performance from the top drawer to make the final of the Torneo Virgen Blanca at Ogueta last night. They were subjected to a tough, 536 ball examination by Juan Martinez de Irujo and Ruben Beloki but after the first point were never headed, and came through by a margin of six. Their mastery lay in their greater consistency, especially in the defending stakes, where Beloki, usually an impenetrable wall, had a game to forget.
It was easy to assume that this match would be won in the forward battle. It pitted against each other the 2010 Manomanista finalists, with runner-up Xala likely out for revenge on the sport’s greatest player Irujo. The two matched each other stroke for stroke for much of the match, and dominated the early exchanges to the extent that one almost overlooked the role of the backs, who were both excellent in the opening salvo. Irujo took the first point of the game with a txoko which was almost nonchalant, only to be emulated by Xala who showed that two could play that particular game. Two more imperious winners from the Lekuine native, and an error from Irujo, and the blue pair had established a 4-1 lead. The two traded spectacular gantxos on 2-5 and 2-6, but as the score line suggested, it was Xala’s pair who were in the ascendant.
It soon became evident that although the tussle in attack was an enthralling one, this match may be decided by the relative fortunes of Beloki and Barriola. When Xala got himself in a twist to allow Irujo and Beloki to tie at 6-6, a golden opportunity presented itself for them to seize the upper hand, but perhaps in an effort to push Barriola back, Beloki hit carelessly high. It was the first of four such errors by the man from Burlada and his lapses were to prove decisive. He made six errors in the game to Barriola’s one, which in such a close fight made the difference. In addition to his bone fide errors which cost points directly, many of his shots within rallies were lacking, giving Xala an all too comfortable platform from which to attack. In contrast, Barriola, roaring back into form after his injury hiatus, was outstanding, giving away his first point only when the score stood at 14-11.
As the match wore on, there was a sense that Irujo’s play became somewhat dragged down by Beloki’s. Until the last third of the match his error count had been low, but lax shots crept in as he committed four errors in the final ten rallies. In contrast, Xala soldiered on. A falta on 15-12 blotted his copybook to a degree, and he twice made mistakes while going for the kill, but by that time the game was almost up. The game ended, rather fittingly, with a miscue from Beloki.
So, an enthralling final is in prospect, with Xala and Barriola taking on Titin and Zubieta on Monday. Both pairs have looked in fine form this week, and the battles between the both the forwards and backs promise to be closely matched. It is hard to call a winner, but if Xala can replicate last night’s standards, he and Barriola could be hard to stop.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 1-4, 2-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8, 7-8, 7-10, 9-10, 9-11, 9-12, 10-12, 10-14, 12-14, 12-15, 13-15, 13-16, 14-16, 14-20, 15-20, 15-21, 16-21, 16-22.
Winners: Xala 9, Martinez de Irujo 10, Barriola 1, Beloki 1
Errors: Xala 4, Martinez de Irujo 6, Barriola 1, Beloki 6
Image from: Noticias de Alava