Friday 23rd March, Urretxu
OLAIZOLA II – MENDIZABAL II* beat ARITZ LASA – PENAGARIKANO 22-17
Before the 2012 Pairs Championship began, any commentator you care to mention had Aimar Olaizola and Mikel Beroiz down as the favourites alongside Juan Martinez de Irujo and Abel Barriola. While Irujo and Barriola have faltered as the tournament has progressed, losing half their matches, Olaizola and Beroiz have been staggering. Right from their opening win in Sestao over Berasaluze VIII and Albisu, they have looked unbeatable, and so they have since proved in winning an unprecedented fourteen from fourteen on their way to the semi finals. The next best pair, Titin III and Merino II has won only eight from fourteen. Many of their matches have been extremely one sided; they have never been pushed closer than 22-18 and finished with a points difference of +131. The next most efficient team was Berasaluze VIII-Albisu on +36. Every time they were threatened, they summoned from somewhere an extra gear which nobody else could match. Cold, clinical, spectacular.
Olaizola and Beroiz’s domination
|Titin III-Merino II
|Martinez de Irujo-Barriola
|Titin III-Merino II
Key to their success so far has been the unbreakable purple patch of Aimar Olaizola. The great forward has lost only two matches from his last thirty and has obliterated the best in the game time and time again with his brutal strength and tactical mastery. When the ball goes to his left hand and he has room to play with out wide, the best his rivals can do is to pray that he misses, and he misses very seldom indeed. Allied to Olaizola’s wealth of experience and big match mentality has been Beroiz, the anchor from Huarte. It is easy to forget that the defender is only 22 years old, so impressive is his command at the back of the fronton. His accuracy and relentlessness wear his opponents down, his long range hitting is superb and his head is as balanced as they come.
For this, their last game in the round robin phase, Beroiz was replaced by Oier Mendizabal, with whom Aimar won the Pairs title in 2008. Even with Mendizabal, whose form of late has been anything but notable, Aimar’s pair went into this as the overwhelming favourites. This championship has been a torrid one for the pair of Aritz Lasa. Many were surprised at the inclusion of Lasa in the competition at the very start and some, such as Gonzalez, who felt he had been slighted, were downright angry. The likeable forward, here playing in his home town of Urretxu, has had spells of form surrounded by longer periods of indifference and his cause has not been helped by the ongoing injury problems of original partner Aitor Zubieta. Zubieta, champion with Xala in 2010, only played seven of the fourteen games due to hand pain, and clearly struggled when he did take to the fronton. Lasa at various times had to play with Pascual and Penagarikano and thus the partnership was never a settled one. Despite their underdog status on Friday, Lasa and Penagarikano took the fight to the table toppers and pushed them harder than anyone could have envisaged. The closeness of the score was due in part to the rather careless early play of Olaizola, who appeared to think extending himself would be unnecessary. Mixed with the brilliance we have come to expect were a handful of errors which could have been avoided with a little more attention. Mendizabal is not currently in the league of Beroiz and as he faltered on one too many occasions, Olaizola raised his game, ending with fourteen winners to five errors. Lasa’s figures of seven to eight reflect the frustrations of a player who despite his best efforts was cramped by his forward rival and was pushed into uncomfortable positions time and again. Penagarikano had the best of the defensive battle, but Mendizabal’s inconsistency was obviated by Olaizola.
Fourteen from fourteen in the qualifying stages is a record of which Olaiziola and Beroiz can and should be extremely proud. However, they cannot afford to be complacent for a moment. Any one of the other three combinations who have made the semi finals is capable of beating anyone on their day and they must therefore continue to take due care to maintain both their level and their focus. Looking back over the past three months however, it is exceedingly hard to see how anyone can get past them, so devastating is their finishing power. Their rivals for the crown have little time to ponder tactics; Berasaluze and Albisu are first into the fray, taking on the invincibles this Saturday at Bizakaia.