The pools in the mixed division of the European Beach Ultimate Championships were always going to feature some titanic battles with so many good teams. There are as many as seven or eight teams who have a legitimate chance of winning the title so someone had to miss out in the initial round. This game pitted two of those teams against each other; Spain and France.
Spain came into EBUC with a strong recent record. They won Sabe a Mixta, a warm up tournament in February in Seville, and Spanish Ultimate in general has been on a strong upward curve in recent years. The French, on the other hand, were more of an unknown with this particular squad but featured some well-known players – former European Young Player of the Year Quentin Roger and captain Ronan Bichon among a strong-looking team.
Ultimately, the game belonged to French captain Bichon. Spain started the game on offence but turned over on a throwaway very quickly. Roger picked the disc up and threw a left-handed backhand (Roger is seemingly ambidextrous and switched throwing hands throughout the match) to Bichon for the score. The second point followed a similar pattern, as the Spanish dropped a swing to hand possession to the French. Roger threw a laser inside-out flick (right-handed) to Bichon who popped it off to Sarah Cleve for the second break in a row.
Spain stopped the bleeding on the next point as the impressive Carles Oliver Casanellas threw the first of his five assists. France held their first offence point immediately afterwards and then broke for a third time in four Spanish offence points – a miscommunication on Spanish poaching led to a wide-open Renaud Moirier streaking down the middle of the field to be found by Manon Coyne before sending a nice break around the force to Romain Chemineau. Spain took a timeout to try and gather themselves, staring down a three-point deficit so early in the contest.
The Spanish held out of the timeout, turning on a huck but taking advantage of a quick French turnover. They made inroads into the deficit on the next point and earned their first break by utilising a zone. They generated a couple of turns and, on the second, Oscar Gonzalez Bentacourt managed to clean up a speculative, high-stall shot into the endzone. The French lead was now 4-3, and the game felt much tighter.
France held next time out, Bichon scoring after the teams traded turnovers. He took control of the offence, working a weave with two other players before snagging a high break throw out of the sky for the score. Spain responded in kind with a Pol Cobos huck opening the field up for a quick score. They then managed to take advantage of a crazy point from Roger, who turned on a poor hammer before being unable to reel in a difficult catch on an upline throw after Spain hucked the disc away. They were on the money at the second time of asking, Adriana Marino pulling them level at 5-5.
France put a strong line out to hold their next offence, knowing that the hard work they’d done in the early stages could be undone if they allowed themselves to be broken again. Their decision was rewarded when Spain’s zone lost track of Julien Gabrielle deep. That man Bichon was on hand again, picking out his teammate with ease for a score. Bichon stayed on for the D point before half and ended up being the difference maker. Some hard yards from Spain, working themselves out of their own endzone after intense French defensive pressure, was wasted when Casanellas threw a huck that tailed too far from his receiver, and a spectacular huck block from Valentina Betancor Boerr was also wasted after a turn on the first throw. Bichon got the disc and threw an easy score for the break going into half – 7-5 to France at half.
France were given the opportunity to ram their advantage home when coming out on offence after the half. They turned early but were given a reprieve when the Spanish sideline sportingly called a catch by one of their own players down. They hucked it deep by another excellent block deep by one of the Spanish female defenders, this time by Lluc Faixedas, stopped the score. Unfortunately, Spain turned quickly again, and France slotted it in. At 8-5, their advantage looked imperious.
The teams traded points for the next while. Spain scored after a great block by Marta Ortiz Aneiros to reduce the deficit to 8-6; France extended it back out with a quick pop after a few turns from both teams (including another Spanish female defender getting a block on a huck). Spain held again to bring the score to 9-7, but then managed to get a break when Gabrielle turned over to reduce the gap to one point. Time was now up – game to 10.
France put out a strong line – Bichon, Roger, Anne-Sophie Bichon, Alessia Chassigneux and Marion Senjean – and Spain put out their top defenders: Patricia Gonzalez Navasa, Irene Goicolea Rodríguez, Irene Taberner Palahi, Cobos and Betancourt. Spain threw a zone again, going back to a wrinkle that had generated important turns going into halftime. Roger and Bichon were calm, though, and worked it down the field with high releases and overheads with ease. Roger, though, tried a low release backhand (right-handed) for the score and turfed it – o, in this case, sanded it. Spain saw an opportunity and went deep early. It looked as though they’d be rewarded but a great block from Chassigneux earned the disc back. The same zone came out again, and the two male handlers worked it up field again. This time they were patient on the endzone line, working it back and forth until Anne-Sophie Bichon found herself in plenty of space on the front cone. Her husband picked her out, ending the game in fitting style.
After the match, Ronan Bichon said that the team had focused hard on coming out hard to start the game in order to put as much pressure on the Spanish as possible:
“It was an intense, tough game. I think we started well because we wanted to put pressure on their offence. We did that, so that was good for us. They came back into the game later but it was an intense game from the team and we are really happy about it.
“We knew that Spain would be a great team because they won Sabe a Mixta. They were the team to beat, for us, to go into the power pool so we are really pleased that we did it. We are looking forward now to the rest of the tournament.”
Spain will continue their campaign in the lower pools tomorrow to try and fight for a pre-quarter place, while France will have two more tough matchups in the upper pool. Both teams will hope there’s plenty more to come from them at this tournament.