|November 7th, 2009|
|15||Round-Robin||3:00pm||FRA - JPN||2 - 3 (1 - 2)||Final|
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, and playing one man short during most of the second period.