The FIH World Cup Qualifier concludes Sunday in Lille when Russia face Italy for the 5th and 6th places, Poland meet host France for the 3rd and 4th places, and Pakistan lock horns with Japan in the winner-take-all Final. At stake is a single berth for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010!
Before the last match of the round-robin, the situation was clear: a Japanese win would qualify them for the final, a draw would qualify Poland, who surpringly defeated Pakistan 3-2 in an earlier match (with a better goal difference than Japan) and France would need to win by more than two goals to reach the final!
Miraculously, the sun was back for this crucial game and the stands were packed with boisterous French fans. Les Bleus immediately showed more purpose than in their last game against Russia, with speed in their runs and crisp passes. Unfortunately, they conceded a penalty-corner and Japan did not miss the chance to take the lead, Manabu Hatakeyamabatting in goal the rebound from the French keeper.
France finally reacted and forced a series of penalty-corners. Unfortunately, they could not control the first one, the second was well saved by Katsuya Takase in the Japanese goal and Frederic Soyez crashed the third one on the crossbar. They were more efficient a few minutes later, Tom Genestet concluding a swift counter-attack on the right to tie the game.
Japan forced another penalty-corner in the 28th minute, after a long solitary run by their Captain Kazuhiro Tsubouchi who had stolen a ball in midfield, and Manabu Hatakeyama did not miss the chance to score his second goal of the day and give back the lead to his team.
After an exchange of cards, including a red one for Yoshihiro Anai France increased their pressure but the Japanese defense was well regrouped and did not leave them any latitude to arrive in shooting position.
It was Japan who scored instead with Hiroki Sakamoto ending the suspense by going around Henri-Julien Lhomme and slamming the ball in goal.
Frédéric Soyez added a late goal, but it was too little too late, and the Japanese could soon celebrate their accession to the final, after a hard fought win against the host, and playing one man short during most of the second period.