The FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, continued on Tuesday with wins for Japan over Italy (3-0), Poland over Russia (2-1) and Pakistan over France (4-2). Both Pakistan and Japan now have three wins, but France and Poland could mathematically still qualify for the Final on Sunday.
Game 7 – Italy v. Japan: 0-3 (half-time: 0-1)
The first game of the day between Italy and Japan started in windy and cold weather conditions, under a steady drizzle, and stayed balanced for a while. Italy managed to force a penalty-corner early but they could not do much out of it against the fast running Japanese defenders. Japan seemed to struggle to switch into their usual high gear while Italy kept their well organized defensive structure. It took a penalty-corner in the 17th minute for the score to evolve, Manabu HATAKEYAMA’s direct shot surprising Davide GUIDA in the Italian goal.
The crowd had not much else to get excited about for the rest of the period, apart from the occasional instant shots from the Japanese strikers, and half-time was reached with a meager one-goal lead for Japan. The same pattern prevailed at the beginning of second half, even when Italy were reduced to ten players on a green card.
With time passing, the Italians became more entrepreneurial and forced another penalty-corner; Massimo LANZANO’s flick had the Japanese keeper beaten but went inches wide. It is finally only in the 61st minute that Hiroki SAKAMOTO managed to score the second goal: a decisive circle penetration was followed by a messy situation in front of the goal-keeper and the ball trickled over the line.
With the floodgates now opened, Japan added another penalty-corner to earn their third wins of the competition, putting them in ideal situation before playing Pakistan and France, while Italy is still chasing their first point, and first goal, of the tournament.
Game 8 – Poland v. Russia: 2-1 (half-time: 2-0)
Poland did not wait long to stake their claim on the match, scoring two goals in quick succession, first in the 2nd minute by Bartosz ŻYWICZKA penetrating the circle before crucifying the Russian keeper, then by Artur MIKUŁA on a reverse-stick shot.
After this thundering start, the Russians reacted well and the game became more balanced. Following a swift counter-attack by Alexander KOROLEV, very active in midfield, Alexandre PLATONOV received the ball alone in the circle, but lost his one-on-one duel with Mariusz CHYŁA in the Polish goal. Alexandre PLATONOV had another massive chance to score but, with the keeper out of position, he could not adjust his shot towards the empty net.
Russia were finally rewarded of their effort when they earned a penalty-stroke in the final minute of the period, however Mariusz CHYŁA once again stood tall in the Polish goal to block Dmitry VOLKOV’s attempt. The honor to score the first Russian goal in this tournament was finally for Alexander LIKOV, early in second period, reducing the gap to a single goal.
Poland completely lost their initial momentum and Russia had most of the opportunities in second period, including a couple of clear shots on goal that they scrambled. Poland had a late reaction and earned a series of penalty-corners but the strikers were not in a prolific day and the score stayed at 2-1, a win that satisfied Poland but left the Russians frustrated with their second period missed opportunities.
Game 9 – France v. Pakistan: 2-4 (half-time: 1-2)
Before the last game of the day, Malaysian umpire Amarjit SINGH and French Captain Matthieu DURCHON were both honored for their 150th international Cap.
The rain and wind had abated just before the opening whistle, and this important game started at full speed, with the first opportunity for Frédéric SOYEZ after a counter-attack by Matthieu DURCHON, but he could not adjust his shot on goal. Unfortunately for the expecting crowd, Pakistan promptly forced a penalty-corner; they could not control it but the ball came to Akhtar ALI, left alone in the circle, and he made no mistake to open the scoring.
The goal took the wind out of the French sails and a period of intense Pakistani domination followed. France tried to react, but they were not incisive enough to shake the experienced Pakistani squad. They were unsuccessful on a series of three penalty-corners however Frédéric SOYEZ was in the right place a few minutes later to pounce on a loose ball and tie the game in the 23rd minute.
Pakistan took back the lead soon after by an unstoppable flick by Sohail ABBAS on penalty-corner and the match continued back and forth, keeping the fans well entertained and often on the edge of their seats. Sohail ABBAS scored again early in the second period to establish a comfortable lead, but the French were not deterred and nearly closed the gap after a swift combination between Frédéric SOYEZ and Matthieu DURCHON.
Frédéric SOYEZ forced a penalty-corner in the 50th minute after some strong work by Max LANOS in midfield, but Salman AKBAR in the Pakaistani goal managed to save the flick from his top corner. The French continued to push forward but were not always inspired in their choices, or successful in their finishing touches. Pakistan were more efficient at the other end and Rehan BUTT made no mistake on a ball that found him alone behind the defense of Les Bleus in the 55th minute.
The French pushed desperately in the last ten minutes to salvage some pride. They added a goal by Arnaud BECUWE, after Frédéric SOYEZ hit the post on another penalty-corner, but it was too little too late and Pakistan cruised to their third win of the competition, leaving the French with a complicated situation to reach the Final on Sunday.
The FIH World Cup Qualifier continues Thursday in Lille when Poland meet Italy, Japan face Pakistan, and host France conclude the day against Russia.
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men – Lille, France
Results Day 3: Tuesday 3 November 2009
Italy - Japan 0:3 (0:1)
JPN 17mn Manabu HATAKEYAMA (PC) 0:1
JPN 61mn Hiroki SAKAMOTO (FG) 0:2
JPN 65mn Yoshihiro ANAI (PC) 0:3
Poland - Russia 2:1 (0:2)
POL 2mn Bartosz ŻYWICZKA (FG) 1:0
POL 5mn Artur MIKUŁA (FG) 2:0
RUS 46mn Alexander LIKOV (FG) 2:1
France - Pakistan 2:4 (1:2)
PAK 8mn Akhtar ALI (FG) 0:1
FRA 23mn Frédéric SOYEZ (FG) 1:1
PAK 26mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 1:2
PAK 37mn Sohail ABBAS (PC) 1:3
PAK 55mn Rehan BUTT (FG) 1:4
FRA 67mn Arnaud BECUWE (PC) 2:4
Standings: 1) Pakistan 9pts (14-2) 2) Japan 9pts (10-2) 3) France 4pts (7-6) 4) Poland 4pts (6-6) 5) Russia 0pt (1-11) 6) Italy 0pt (0-11)
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