The FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, continued in increasingly cold, windy and rainy conditions. Pakistan earned easily their second win against Russia (5-0), Japan won a very tight and important game against Poland (3-2) and France pleased their fans with a 3-0 win over Italy.
Game 4 – Pakistan v. Russia: 5-0 (half-time: 3-0)
It took Pakistan a few minutes to find some rhythm in the cold weather, but they soon took control of the game. They built up some chances in front of the Russian goal, however the first real opportunity was at the other end, with a penalty corner for Russia well saved by Zeeshan ASHRAF in goal. ASHRAF was called again into action soon after on an instant shot by Yaroslav LOGINOV who collected a ball loosely controlled by the Pakistani defense.
With both teams reduced to ten players with green cards, Pakistan forced a penalty-corner; Sohail ABBAS’s flick went high but was superbly deflected by Roman ROGOV in full extension. Finally, after a swift counter-attack by Shakeel ABBASI, Rehan BUTT received the ball on the far post and made no mistake to open the score in the 23rd minute.
During a long period, the game swung back and forth without much danger, but Pakistan finished the period strongly, adding two goals before the break, first by Shakeel ABBASI, impeccably served by Abdul Haseem KHAN, then by Sohail ABBAS on penalty-corner.
After halt-time, they immediately picked up where they had stopped, adding a goal on a penalty-corner, this time by Muhammad IMRAN. With the result certainly not in doubt any more, the intensity of play declined and the Pakistani players had more room and time to display their individual skills. Abdul Haseem KHAN scored a superb goal, celebrating in style his 50th international Cap, but, with rain starting to pour down, chances became scarce and Pakistan cruised to their second 5-0 win of the competition.
Game 5 – Japan v. Poland: 3-2 (half-time: 3-2)
In what was billed as the most balanced match of the day, Japan did not wait long to stake their claim on the game, their prolific striker Kenta TANAKA opening the scoring after less than a minute of play! The Poles were undeterred and reacted immediately, forcing a penalty-corner well converted by Tomasz DUTKIEWICZ a few minutes later.
Despite the rain pouring more and more heavily, the game continued on the same tempo, and Japan soon regain the lead by Tomonori ONO, pouncing on an uncontrolled ball. The same ONO nearly added another goal a few seconds later, but was this time denied by Mariusz CHYŁA in the Polish goal.
The game flew back and forth in an entertaining manner well appreciated by the courageous fans filling the stands despite the cold, wet and windy conditions. Tomasz DUTKIEWICZ had another chance on penalty-corner, but this time Katsuya TAKASE in the Japanese goal managed to protect his goal with a spectacular stretch. Japan took advantage of a Polish green card to force a penalty-corner in the final minute of the period. Katsuyoshi NAGASAWA scored it with a flick just under the crossbar, but the Japanese joy was short lived, as the Poles immediately pushed forward and managed to score by Maciej JANISZEWSKI with the final second ticking down on the clock!
In second half, play suffered from the adverse conditions but both teams managed to maintain a high tempo. The Japanese strikers had a few chances to increase the lead, but Mariusz CHYŁA stood tall in the Polish goal and the score was still 3-2 with a few minutes to go, triggering a very intense end of match. Poland were desperately pushing to close the gap, but their effort were hampered by a green card to Mirosław JUSZCZAK.
With two wins in so many games, Japan can be happy of a start of competition that put them in ideal position.
Game 6 – Italy v. France: 0-3 (half-time: 0-1)
Buoyed by a crowd of hearty fans who did not seem bothered by the torrential rain, the French tried to score quickly to reassure themselves after their opening day set-back against Poland. They promptly earned a penalty-corner and tried a deflection, but it flew just over the crossbar. After a swift counter-attack soon after, Martin GENESTET lost the ball while entering the circle, but somehow collected it again to slam it into goal.
Unfortunately, the French seemed to satisfy themselves with this successful start and play became more balanced and somewhat messy for a long period, with unforced errors and passes going to the opposition on both sides. The Italians were all too happy with a match with less rhythm and managed to mount some good challenges for a French defense that could not shake-up their game. Half-time was finally reached with the meager one-goal advantage for the Les Bleus.
Despite the desperate chants from the faithful fans, the same pattern prevailed at the beginning of the second period and the Italians continued to exploit the French approximation to display their skills. Even when Italy were reduced to ten with a green card, the French could not create a decent challenge on goal.
It finally took a penalty-corner by Frédéric SOYEZ to beat Davide GUIDA, excellent in the Italian goal all match. SOYEZ added another penalty-corner soon after, but the last chances of the match were for Italy on a series of penalty-corners well defended by Henri-Julien LHOMME.
Although they claimed that the three points of the win were all that counted, the French squad can’t be happy with their lackluster performance in front of the lowest ranked team in the competition.
The FIH World Cup Qualifier continues Tuesday in Lille when Italy meet Japan, Poland face Russia, and host France lock horns with Pakistan.
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men – Lille, France
Results Day 2: Sunday 1 November 2022
Pakistan - Russia 5:0 (3:0)
PAK 23mn Rehan BUTT (FG) 1:0
PAK 31mn Shakeel ABBASI (FG) 2:0
PAK 33mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 3:0
PAK 37mn Muhammad IMRAN (PC) 4:0
PAK 43mn Abdul Haseem KHAN (FG) 5:0
Japan - Poland 3:2 (3:2)
JPN 2mn Kenta TANAKA (FG) 1:0
POL 9mn Tomasz DUTKIEWICZ (PC) 1:1
JPN 14mn Tomonori ONO (FG) 2:1
JPN 34mn Katsuyoshi NAGASAWA (PC) 3:1
POL 35mn Maciej JANISZEWSKI (PC) 3:2
Italy - France 0:3 (0:1)
FRA 9mn Martin GENESTET (FG) 0:1
FRA 50mn Frédéric SOYEZ (PC) 0:2
FRA 58mn Frédéric SOYEZ (PC) 0:3
Standings: 1) Pakistan 6pts 2) Japan 6pts 3) France 4pts 4) Poland 1pt 5) Italy 0pt 6) Russia 0pt