The round-robin phase of the FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, ended with Japan defeating France (3-2) in a hard-fought battle to reach the final on Sunday against Pakistan, who suffered a surprising defeat against a valiant Polish team (2-3).
Game 13 – Pakistan v. Poland: 2-3 (half-time: 1-0)
Pakistan and Poland opened the last day of round-robin play under heavy clouds, but the torrential morning rain stopped just in time for the National Anthems. It took time for the match to gain some structure, both teams initially favoring long runs to try and warm up. Pakistan benefitted early from a harsh penalty-corner but Sohail ABBAS flicked it too high.
With only rare Polish counter-attacks reaching the Pakistani circle, all the pressure was on the Polish defense, well backed by Mariusz CHYŁA once again dominant in goal, including on a one-on-one with Akhtar ALI completely alone in front of him. Pakistan were struggling to penetrate the circle and create clean shooting opportunities, even when Poland were reduced to ten players with a green card to Artur MIKUŁA. The score was finally opened in the 29th minute by Muhammad WAQAS receiving a jewel of a pass from Rehan BUTT after a decisive run on the right.
Poland had a chance to tie the game in the last minute of the period on a penalty-corner but the flick went inches too high and the break was reached with a meager one-goal lead for Pakistan. The second period started with more momentum. Muhammad ZUBAIR received the ball with his back to the goal and somehow managed to beat the keeper, but the Poles were prompt to react and Artur MIKUŁA closed the gap in the 45th minute.
Pakistan could not take control of play and reverted to individual runs to try and find solutions, but to no avail. Tempers started to flare and Poland earned a few penalty-corners but could not manage to control them. They were more efficient in open play and two quick goals by Bartosz ŻYWICZKA and Krzysztof KMIEĆ put them in the lead! With a Pakistani defense totally scattered, Poland nearly increased their lead shortly after, but the there was no more scoring and Poland earned a surprising, but well deserved, win over top ranked Pakistan.
Game 14 – Russia v. Italy: 2-2 (half-time: 0-2)
The second game of the day had little interest for the rankings: whatever the result, the two teams knew that they would meet again on Sunday to play the 5th and 6th place. They nevertheless played an entertaining match and Italy were promptly up by two goals, both scored by Massimo LANZANO. Russia were far from the form they displayed against France on Thursday, scrambling a number of good chances, and half-time was reached with the 2-0 score-line for Italy.
Russia immediately displayed more purpose in second period, however they were unlucky on a penalty-corner that hit the post, then on a combination that had the Italian defense beaten but ended just inches wide. They continued to pepper the Italian goal but were definitively not in a good day and it is only in the 48th minute that Evgeny MOKROUSOV managed to beat Davide GUIDA in the Italian goal. Alexander KOROLEV tied the game in the 60th minute, but not before Davide GUIDA had stopped a few more shots from close range!
The game ended tied at 2-2 and the two teams will have an opportunity to settle their rivalry on Sunday.
Game 15 – France v. Japan: 2-3 (half-time: 1-2)
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 (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 HATAKEYAMA batting in goal the rebound from the French keeper. This set-back somewhat deflated the French squad and they became hesitant in their development of play, trying to use long, but sterile, aerial balls or relying on individual rushes to progress.
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. France had two more penalty-corners early in second period but were too slow in their combinations to threaten the Japanese goal; they missed another good chance when Arnaud BECUWE received on the stroke point a good ball from Matthieu DURCHON but deflected the ball wide.
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. The game became tenser and France were shown a second yellow card for a dangerous diving tackle. Japan were happy to just control the game in defense, taking advantage of the space in the French defense to mount the occasional swift counter-attack.
With time passing, the situation became more difficult for the French squad, helpless to find a flaw in the tight Japanese defensive wall. With the support of the crowd, they tried a last strong push in the final minutes of the game, but even with the man advantage could not produce much danger. Finally, after running the whole length of the field with the ball, Hiroki SAKAMOTO ended 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.
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 2023!
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men – Lille, France
Results Day 5: Saturday 7 November 2022
Pakistan - Poland 2:3 (1:0)
PAK 29mn Muhammad WAQAS (FG) 1:0
PAK 42mn Muhammad ZUBAIR (FG) 2:0
POL 45mn Artur MIKUŁA (FG) 2:1
POL 58mn Bartosz ŻYWICZKA (FG) 2:2
POL 60mn Krzysztof KMIEĆ (PC) 2:3
Russia - Italy 2:2 (0:2)
ITA 11mn Massimo LANZANO (PC) 0:1
ITA 17mn Massimo LANZANO (PC) 0:2
RUS 48mn Evgeny MOKROUSOV (FG) 1:2
RUS 60mn Alexander KOROLEV (FG) 2:2
France - Japan 2:3 (1:2)
JPN 6mn Manabu HATAKEYAMA (PC) 0:1
FRA 21mn Tom GENESTET (FG) 1:1
JPN 28mn Manabu HATAKEYAMA (PC) 1:2
JPN 65mn Hiroki SAKAMOTO (FG) 1:3
FRA 67mn Frédéric SOYEZ (FG) 2:3
Round-Robin Final Standings: 1) Pakistan 12pts (22-6) 2) Japan 12pts (14-10) 3) Poland 10pts 4) France 7pts 5) Russia 1pt (6-17) 6) Italy 1pt (3-17)
Schedule for Day 6: Sunday 8 November 2022
11:05 - 5th-6th – Russia v. Italy
13:35 - 3rd-4th – Poland v. France
16:05 - 1st-2nd – Pakistan v. Japan
The winner of the Final qualify for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2023, scheduled for March 2023 in New Delhi, India.