Japan is the 2011 Electric Ireland FIH Champions Challenge 1 gold medalist after earning a come-from-behind 3-2 win against the United States.
Japan has used its speed and strength throughout the entire tournament to power into the finals and today was no different as the Japanese simply wore down the Americans to earn the gold medal. Ai Murukami was the key to victory. She scored on a second-half penalty stroke and sunk the gold medal-winning penalty corner shot with six minutes left in regulation. It was the first lead Japan held in the game.
“When we were 2-0 behind, we knew the Americans were tired from the tournament so we did not panic, did not change anything and stuck with our principles," said Japan Head Coach Zenjiro Yasuda.
USA started the game as the stronger team. Michelle Kasold set the tone early, giving the Americans a 1-0 advantage just three minutes into the game. USA controlled the ball for much the half and was rewarded with the 2-0 goal when Katie O’Donnell marched the ball into the net for the 2-0 lead.
Japan’s biggest strength was its quick counterattack and ultimately it gave the Japanese hope in the waning minutes of the first half when Akane Shibata fired in a lightning-quick shot to cut the U.S. lead in half must before the break.
Japan picked up their game a notch in the second half and spent more time in front of the U.S. net. An obstruction call on a shot gave Japan a penalty stroke. Murukami easily put in the ball, tying the game at two with 29 minutes to go.
Japan came close to getting the go-ahead goal seven minutes later when a penalty corner clanged off the post, but harmlessly bounced out of bounds. The Japanese steadily increased their pressure and played a very disciplined game and simply waited for an opportunity to present itself. That chance came when the ball bounced off an American defender’s foot, giving Japan the penalty corner they had been waiting for.
Japan entered the tournament as the favorite on paper with the highest FIH World Ranking place at #9. But both the Japanese and #13 USA struggled in the preliminary round, making today’s final an upset within the tournament as it pitted a fourth-seeded team from the preliminary round (USA), against the third-seeded team (Japan).
“It is the start of our preparations for pre-Olympic plan. We wanted to work on three points for this tournament, our organisation, our physical shape and third, our tactics," Yasuda said with a smile.