Pakistan were impressive on Day 4 of the FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, with a decisive 6-1 win against Japan; Poland took the better of Italy (4-1) while France kept alive their possibility to reach the final on Sunday with a hard earned win against Russia (4-3).
Game 10 – Poland v. Italy: 4-1 (half-time: 1-0)
After more early morning rain, the first match of the day started under a timid, but much welcome, sun! Both teams were inspired by the improved weather conditions and produced an entertaining display of attacking hockey. Poland had most of the play, but Italy opposed their usual hermetic defense. They forced a penalty-corner in the 18th minute but, with their regular striker Massimo LANZANO injured, they could not threaten Arkadiusz MATUSZAK on duty in the Polish goal.
Action became more intense in the Italian circle in the closing minutes of the period but Francesco MITROTTA did well to protect his goal until the 33rd minute, when Artur MIKUŁA received a crisp ball behind the defense and made no mistake to open the scoring.
Poland dominated again in second period, but could not generate much danger until Michał KUNKLEWSKI made the most of an untidy ball reaching him in the circle to increase the Polish lead. Italy maintained their tight defense, but were too busy in the back to create real danger in attack, including on a few botched penalty-corner attempts. However, Jacopo LUNETTA reduced the score in the 66th minute, scoring in the process the first Italian goal of the competition.
Poland seemed happy with the three points of the win and didn’t exert themselves more than needed, adding two more goals in second period by Krystian MAKOWSKI and Tomasz MARCINKOWSKI, all field goals.
Game 11 – Japan v. Pakistan: 1-6 (half-time: 0-2)
The second game was followed anxiously by the local crowd, as France needed a win by Pakistan to keep a chance to reach the final on Sunday. Japan started the match at full speed and immediately earned a penalty-corner but they could not exploit it. They maintained control of play under the impulsion of their captain Kazuhiro TSUBOUCHI, extremely active in midfield, and Pakistan were reduced for a while to absorbing the pressure.
The first Pakistani opportunity was only in the 15th minute, but Rehan BUTT’s shot could not threaten Katsuya TAKASE in the Japanese goal. However, the momentum had now shifted in favor of Pakistan, and a superb run by Shakeel ABBASI through the entire Japanese defense earned a penalty-corner, converted high by Sohail ABBAS.
Rejuvenated by the lead, and the bright sun, Pakistan picked up the pace. To their credit, the Japanese players matched them step for step for the longest time, resulting in a very attractive period of attacking hockey with spectacular plays at both ends. After a swift exchange of passes in the circle, Rehan BUTT added a second goal for Pakistan before half-time.
With rain unfortunately back, the physiognomy of the match changed in second period to a less spectacular game. Katsuyoshi NAGASAWA reduced the score in the 42nd minute and Japan nearly tied the game a few minutes later on a penalty-corner. They maintained their pressure, exposing some weaknesses in the Pakistani defense, but could not close the gap. Pakistan were more efficient at the other end, with Sohail ABBAS on another penalty-corner, Muhammad ZUBAIR and Rehan BUTT on field goals, putting the game out of reach in a span of four minutes.
The remaining of the game turned to an impressive demonstration of speed and technical skills by Pakistan, much to the pleasure of the crowd. Japan had a final push to try and salvage some pride, but the score remained a decisive 6-1 win for Pakistan.
Game 12 – Russia v. France: 3-4 (half-time: 1-2)
The French had their work cut off in the last match of the day, needing a win to maintain their chances to reach the final on Sunday. They were promptly on the scoreboard by Arnoud JANSEN, but could not weather the Russian reaction and the game was back to square one when Alexander LIKOV tied the score in the 11th minute.
France was soon ahead again by Martin GENESTET, making the best of a messy situation in the circle, and this time managed to stay ahead thanks to some decisive saves by Henri-Julien LHOMME in goal. The game opened up, shifting quickly from one end to the other. France had the best opportunities but could not increase their tally, including when Matthieu DURCHON, alone in front of the goal, shot wide. They nearly paid for their lack of realism at the other end, where Russia forced a penalty-corner in the final second of the period and almost tied the game again.
France was saved twice by their goal-keeper Henri-Julien LHOMME in the opening minute of the second period but still could not increase their lead despite creating multiple chances in the Russian circle. The sanction for their lack of realism and messy play came in the 49th minute when Nikolay YANKUN tied the score with a penalty-corner under the crossbar.
This was the wake-up call needed by Les Bleus and they scored two goals in quick succession, first by Frédéric SOYEZ on penalty-corner and then by Tom GENESTET, on hand to pick up a rebound and slot it past Roman ROGOV in the Russian goal. Unfortunately, this burst of intensity was short lived and Alexander ZHIRKOV took advantage of some sloppy French defending to close the gap to one goal, setting the stage for a torrid end of game.
France managed to protect their meager one-goal lead, salvaging their chances to reach the final on Sunday if they beat Japan in the last game of the round-robin (assuming that Pakistan do not lose against Poland)!
The round-robin phase of the FIH World Cup Qualifier concludes Saturday in Lille when Pakistan face Poland, Russia meet Italy, and host France play against Japan.
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men – Lille, France
Results Day 4: Thursday 5 November 2022
Poland - Italy 4:1 (1:0)
POL 33mn Artur MIKUŁA (FG) 1:0
POL 46mn Michał KUNKLEWSKI (FG) 2:0
POL 61mn Krystian MAKOWSKI (FG) 3:0
ITA 66mn Jacopo LUNETTA (FG) 3:1
POL 68mn Tomasz MARCINKOWSKI (FG) 4:1
Japan - Pakistan 1:6 (0:2)
PAK 19mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 0:1
PAK 30mn Rehan BUTT (FG) 0:2
JPN 42mn Katsuyoshi NAGASAWA (PC) 1:2
PAK 52mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 1:3
PAK 54mn Muhammad ZUBAIR (FG) 1:4
PAK 56mn Rehan BUTT (FG) 1:5
PAK 61mn Shakeel ABBASI (FG) 1:6
Russia - France 3:4 (1:2)
FRA 4mn Arnoud JANSEN (FG) 0:1
RUS 11mn Alexander LIKOV (FG) 1:1
FRA 16mn Martin GENESTET (FG) 1:2
RUS 49mn Nikolay YANKUN (PC) 2:2
FRA 55mn Frédéric SOYEZ (PC) 2:3
FRA 56mn Tom GENESTET (FG) 2:4
RUS 68mn Alexander ZHIRKOV (FG) 3:4
Standings: 1) Pakistan 12pts 2) Japan 9pts 3) Poland 7pts (10-7) 4) France 7pts (11-9) 5) Russia 0pt (4-15) 6) Italy 0pt (1-15)