Japan defeated Russia to secure their place in the World League Semi-Finals
Japan defeated Russia to secure their place in the World League Semi-Finals
(Photo: FIH / Dmitry Ryazhski)

The second-but-last round of matches at World League Round 2 in Elektrostal saw Ukraine defeat Austria in a shoot-out and Egypt battle past the Czech Republic to confine the Czech to last place in the tournament. The highlight of the day was the match between tabletoppers Russia and Japan, with Japan claiming a narrow win that confirmed them as one of the two missing World League Semi-Finalists.

At the end of Day 4, Japan are still at the top of the table on twelve points, trailed by Russia on nine, Austria on six, Ukraine on five and Egypt on four, while the Czech Republic are without points after their first four matches. For Russia to still make it through to the Semi-Final events next month, they would need to finish first in the final ranking by winning their match against the Czech Republic tomorrow with a sufficient number of goals while hoping for Japan to lose against Austria.

Today, Ukraine and Austria took to the field first on another nice warm and sunny day in Elektrostal. Austria scored first as Patrick Schmidt finished of a quick attack in the sixth minute but Ukraine replied in the very next attack with Artem Ozerskyi finding the net for the equalizer.

For the remainder of the first half, play moved back and forth between the equal opponents but neither could apply pressure in the circle, and the scoreline stayed at 1-1 into halftime. After the break, Ukraine returned with more resolve than Austria and attacked relentlessly, while Austria struggled to reply appropriately.

Nonetheless, it was the Austrians who scored next to take the lead again, against the run of play. Following this goal, the match became increasingly hectic and both coaches were highly excited, pacing the sideline. Ukraine were the more dangerous team, and with five minutes on the clock, they managed to pull level as Dmytro Luppa sank a straight flick to the bottom left of the goal on a penalty corner.

This goal eventually forced the match into a shoot-out, the second of the event and the second for Austria who had walked away victorious from their shoot-out with Egypt two days ago. This time however, the decider went the other way, and it was the Ukraine who snatched a win after a dramatic shoot-out which included a re-take and two penalty strokes.

The subsequent match between Egypt and the Czech Republic also started with an early goal, as Amr Sayed converted a penalty corner in the fourth minute. Egypt were in firm control of the match and their prime penalty corner expert Hamada Atef piled on a second goal midway through the first half until the Czech started finding their feet and fought back with a goal from Tomas Vohnicky.

The teams thus went into halftime at 2-1 in the Egyptians advantage, but a double hit just after the re-start practically settled the match, as two goals from team captain Waleed Mohamed in just under a minute took the scorelone to 4-1. A beautiful goal from the far right by David Vacek brought the Czechs a little closer again, but it was an uphill battle.

Taking advantage of a moment of confusion in the Czech defense, Ahmed Abd Elmaksoud broke through, scoring from the circle to restore a three goal lead, and while Martin Capouch still added one for the Czech Republic, the Czechs couldn't catch up with Egypt anymore. This results confines the Czech Republic to last place in the tournament's final ranking ahead of the last round of matches.

The day concluded with the most important match, the encounter between the Russian hosts and Team Japan, a decisive match in the race for the World League Semi-Finals.

Japan got off to a good start with a 10th minute goal from Heita Yoshihara but Russia caught up with a goal from Dmitry Azarov little later, with Azarov's goal coming as the last rebound at the end of a series of shots that were valiantly warded off by Japanese goalkeeper Katsuya Takase, and the tied score stayed up until halftime.

Playing the more controlled and calm hockey in the face of hectic Russian attacks, the Japanese pulled ahead again with a penalty corner conversion by their set piece expert Manabu Hatakeyama, with a low flick beating the keeper.

Knowing they are under pressure to win the tournament if they want to go through, Russia played aggressive attacking hockey after the Japanese regained the lead, and had a string of opportunities but the Japanese defense warded off attempt after attempt. Shinji Kawauchi eventually finished off a quick counter-attack, catching the Russian defense off-guard, to make it 3-1. With only minutes to go  the match, Russia ran out of time to reply, and Japan secured the win and the elusive ticket to the Semi-Final.

To follow the developments at the World League Round 2 event in Elektrostal for the rest of the week, check our website www.fih.ch, follow us on Twitter @FIH_Hockey and @World_League1, or watch the Russian Hockey Federation's livestream at worldleague.mohockey.ru!