Olaizola II and Begino set up the dream final, only for Barriola to be forced out
It seems as if, since I have been away in Italy and devoid of internet, all hell has broken loose in the world of professional pelota. The weekend before last, Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino booked their place in the final of the Pairs Championship, with a 22-19 victory over Yves Salaberry and Abel Barriola, who had already qualified. As Martinez de Irujo and Merino II lost to Gonzalez and Laskurain, this set up the final which had been long anticipated, between the two star turns of the tournament. However, yesterday, this tantalising prospect was turned firmly on its head with the news that Barriola, due to line up in his first ever Pairs final, would not be able to play. The top defender from Leitza had injured his calf muscle during the last semi final match, and it was clear he would not recover by Sunday, when the final was due to take place. Aspe looked into the possibility of postponing the big event until the following weekend, but the organisers vetoed this for the following three reasons:
1) There can be no guarantee that Barriola will be fit by 24th April.
2) A postponement would be unfair on the fans who had bought tickets, especially as the new date would coincide with the Easter holiday when many would be away.
3) A deferral would get in the way of the start of the Manomanista Championship, the presentation for which is on 19th April.
This drastic decision throws Mikel Beroiz in at the deep end. The young defender will replace Barriola in what will be by far the biggest game of his short career, but filling the master’s boots will be a task not for the faint hearted, especially as it falls upon him to salvage Xala’s tournament. Beroiz stated that he was ‘in shock’ but that he is determined to play to the best of his ability. He also expressed his sorrow for Barriola, to whom misfortune seems to cling. Xala and Barriola have been the favourites for this txapela, almost throughout the long months of the tournament, and it seemed highly possible that the Leitzarra would finally break his lengthy run of second places in major championships. In 2005 he endured a lengthy break after an operation on his right hand, and worse still, lost a year to an anterior cruciate ligament tear in 2009, but this injury will hurt more than anything which has gone before. It is a staggering blow in the wake of a near faultless campaign by one of the classiest, and unluckiest, players of our era.
Image from Manista