Juan Martinez de Irujo v Abel Barriola, Sunday 12th December, San Sebastian
This time last year, Abel Barriola was sitting at home in Leitza watching the Cuatro y Medio Championship on television, laid low by the twin mental and physical agonies of a torn cruciate ligament. However, as reported by Noticias de Navarra this morning, he received a message which now appears prophetic. The defender reveals that “two friends sent me a message telling me that next year I would be in the final of the Cuatro y Medio”, and in the final he is, something of which he could only dream in the dark months throughout which he doubted his ability ever to return to his previous exalted level. Owing to his non-participation last year, Barriola has had to fight through the rounds in this year’s championship, but he has rarely been troubled, putting Saralegi, Bengoetxea VI, Retegi Bi, Gonzalez and Titin III to the sword on the way to the final showdown. His only defeat came at the hands of his opponent on Sunday. He is under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge ahead if he is to don his third professional txapela, stating that “if I play badly, I’m not sure I’m going to win”, but he knows he has chances. He has exuded class in the past two months and he will be ready to pounce on Irujo’s every lapse, however minor.
Juan Martinez de Irujo, the whirlwind from Ibero, is the clear favourite with the bookmakers. He was not required to graft his way through the tournament in the manner of Barriola, entering at the quarter final stage thanks to his runner-up position in 2009, and has shown little if any sign of weakness, sweeping aside Patxi Ruiz and Gonzalez, and coming through against Barriola and Titin, despite the doggedness of their efforts. Irujo has eight txapelas to his name, but only one in this discipline, that coming in 2006 when he defeated Barriola in the final by the narrowest possible margin. That scoreline alone should warn him that he will have to fight for his ninth, but the greatest player of the 21st century seems in no way troubled, stating that he cares little about the odds, and that the prize could just as easily go to either player, while emphasising his burning desire to win. It would take bravery to bet against him achieving his aim, but last year’s outcome shows that nothing is certain. If Gonzalez could upset the apple cart then, so too can Barriola now.
Balls were chosen by both finalists yesterday at Atano III, in front of 200 fans. Both used every second of their allotted fifteen minutes and made their final choices as follows:
Irujo: 106.8 and 106.4 grams
Barriola: 106.1 and 106.6 grams
Irujo and Barriola: let battle commence
Second Tier Final: Mikel Idoate v David Merino, Saturday 11th December, Pamplona
The second tier Cuatro y Medio crown will also be decided this weekend; Idoate plays Merino II on Saturday at Labrit, in the showdown of the up and coming stars. 21 year old Idoate will start as the slight favourite. He has won all his matches thus far, beating Ongay, Argote, Rico IV and Cabrerizo II, as well as his opponent on Saturday. Merino has lost twice, once to Idoate and once to Cabrerizo, but victories against Gorka, Mendizabal (by a thumping 22 points to 3), and Rico, were enough to see him through on points difference.
Mikel Idoate is the likely favourite at Labrit
Images from: antena3.com, Diario de Navarra (JC Cordovilla)