The FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, ended with the qualification of Pakistan for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2023 after a hard fought Final against Japan (3-1). Poland edged host France for 3rd place (5-4) and Russia finished 5th in front of Italy (2-0).
Game 16 – 5th-6th – Russia v. Italy: 2-0 (half-time: 2-0)
The first classification match started in a crisp autumn morning, with no rain on the horizon for a change. Russia started with much more purpose than in the pool game against the same opponent and Alexander KOROLEV had an early chance in front of goal but sent his reverse stick shot high over the crossbar. Alexandre PLATONOV was more realistic a few minutes later and slotted the ball out of reach of Davide GUIDA in the Italian goal.
Russia controlled most of the play and Alexander ZHIRKOV increased their tally in the 19th minute. Italy reacted under the leadership of their charismatic captain Jacopo LUNETTA but could seldom threaten Roman ROGOV in the Russian goal. They nevertheless held tight in defense and the score stayed unchanged until half-time, reached with the two-goal lead for Russia.
The same pattern prevailed in second period. Playing their sixth game in nine days, both teams were getting tired and intensity of play diminished significantly. No real scoring chances were created and Russia finally won 2-0, justifying their better ranking than Italy.
Game 17 – 3rd-4th – Poland v. France: 5-4 (half-time: 1-3)
With possibly already an eye on the future, France played this classification match without their two leaders, Matthieu DURCHON and Frédéric SOYEZ. They immediately pushed forward and were soon on the scoreboard, Martin GENESTET concluding a swift counter-attack that penetrated the Polish defense with a quick exchange of passes.
France defended well a penalty-corner soon after and could have increased their lead on a ball misplayed by Arkadiusz MATUSZAK (replacing Mariusz CHYŁA in the Polish goal) but Thomas GOURDIN totally thumb led his shot in front of the empty goal. Poland came back in the match in the 16th minute, with a superb reverse-stick shot by Maciej JANISZEWSKI that left no chance to Max WILSON in the French goal.
With the score tied, the game opened up and kept the crowd well entertained. France had most of the chances but could not penetrate the experienced Polish defense, until the 29th minute, when they scored two goals thirty seconds apart by Max LANOS, then Tom GENESTET.
Poland started the second period at full speed and immediately surprised France, with two goals by Dariusz RACHWALSKI and Artur MIKUŁA taking advantage of the disorganized French defense. Not to be outplayed, Les Bleus responded at the other end by Olivier SANCHEZ to regain a one-goal lead. After this flurry of goals, play settled slightly, flowing back and forth with chances at both ends in an exciting display of attacking hockey.
After a yellow card to France, Poland tied the score on a penalty-corner that had to be confirmed by the video-umpire, and then took the lead a few minutes later on another penalty-corner, this time by their talented Captain Dariusz RACHWALSKI, his second of the game. This triggered a reaction from France, and from the crowd, for a very intense end of game. But the French players were starting to be tired and could not shake the experienced Polish defense. Poland finally won this hard fought game, finishing the competition in third place, higher than their initial ranking.
Game 18 – 1st-2nd – Pakistan v. Japan: 3-1 (half-time: 2-1)
The Final of this first World Cup Qualifier started under a pleasant (if not very warm…) sun and in front of a large attendance, including a fair number of noisy flag waving Pakistani fans. Pakistan pushed immediately and created some chances, but Katsuya TAKASE in the Japanese goal thwarted their first attempts. Japan surprised them with one of their trademark counter-attacks and earned a penalty-corner, where they tried an elaborate combination that ended just inches wide.
After this wild start, Pakistan settled down and tried to take control of play, with Waseem AHMED very present in midfield. They opened the scoring by Abdul Haseem KHAN in the 12th minute after a decisive run by Shakeel ABBASI over 50 meters amongst the whole Japanese defense. They maintained their pressure, but Japan did not give up any inch and it took a penalty-corner in the 24th minute by the always reliable Sohail ABBAS to increase their lead.
Japan did not give up though, and reduced the gap by a clever penalty-corner by their captain Kazuhiro TSUBOUCHI, flicking low out of reach of Salman AKBAR in the Pakistani goal. This upset Pakistan and they pushed hard in the final minutes of the period, overwhelming the Japanese defense, but they could not score and half-time was reached with a single-goal lead for the favorites.
Pakistan earned a penalty-stroke early in second period after a defender stopped illegally a penalty-corner but, incredibly, Shakeel ABBASI put it wide and Japan nearly tied the game on their immediate counter-attack! The Japanese players were closing down very quickly on the Pakistani attackers, preventing them from developing their fast game, but they could not do anything on another stunning Sohail ABBAS penalty-corner that shaved the crossbar.
Even with a more comfortable two-goal cushion, Pakistan were not out of the wood yet. They had to survive two penalty-corners and a flurry of attacks by Japanese players who didn’t seem to feel any fatigue despite their incessant high speed runs. In the final ten minutes, play was nearly exclusively in the defensive zone of Pakistan, and the Pakistani players were relieved to hear the final buzzer. They certainly deserved their win, and the qualification for the 2023 World Cup, but Japan were very worthy opponents in a spectacular Final.
Pakistan joins the nine teams already qualified for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2023 (Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Korea, Netherlands, South Africa and Spain). Two more spots are available and will go to the winner of the second World Cup Qualifier, which has just started in Invercargill, New Zealand, and the third one, which starts next week in Quilmes, Argentina.
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men – Lille, France
Results Day 6: Sunday 8 November 2022
5th-6th – Russia v. Italy 2:0 (2:0)
RUS 12mn Alexandre PLATONOV (FG) 1:0
RUS 19mn Alexander ZHIRKOV (FG) 2:0
3rd-4th – Poland v. France 5:4 (1:3)
FRA 5mn Martin GENESTET (FG) 0:1
POL 16mn Maciej JANISZEWSKI (FG) 1:1
FRA 29mn Max LANOS (FG) 1:2
FRA 30mn Tom GENESTET (FG) 1:3
POL 38mn Dariusz RACHWALSKI (FG) 2:3
POL 40mn Artur MIKUŁA (FG) 3:3
FRA 41mn Olivier SANCHEZ (FG) 3:4
POL 57mn Karol SZYPLIK (PC) 4:4
POL 59mn Dariusz RACHWALSKI (PC) 5:4
1st-2nd – Pakistan v. Japan 3:1 (2:1)
PAK 12mn Abdul Haseem KHAN (FG) 1:0
PAK 24mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 2:0
JPN 27mn Kazuhiro TSUBOUCHI (PC) 2:1
PAK 41mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 3:1
1) Pakistan (Qualify for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2023)
Player of the Tournament: Matthieu DURCHON (France)
Goal-keeper of the Tournament: Mariusz CHYŁA (Poland)
Fair Play: Russia