Japan lead pool A after Day 1 in Kuantan.
Japan lead pool A after Day 1 in Kuantan.
(Photo: FIH)

Japan are top of pool A after the first day of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan, Malaysia. The Asians celebrated a 3-2 victory over Poland in the second match of the day. Earlier, New Zealand had won the opening game 2-1 against Ireland. Tomorrow, Japan will face the Black Sticks with Ireland’s Green Machine taking on Poland. 

New Zealand v Ireland 2-1 (1-1)

Tournament favourites New Zealand won the opening match at the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan defeating Ireland 2-1 (1-1) in pool A. Because of the hot weather conditions here in Malaysia, this encounter was played in four quarters of 17.5 minutes each.

Steve Edwards (11’) opened the scoring from open play, before Alan Sothern (16’) equalised with a solo run. The intensive match saw both goalkeepers, Ireland’s David Harte and New Zealand’s Devon Manchester, called into action for the remainder of the first 35 minutes but scores remained level at the break.   

“We expected that sort of match but we are very pleased with the win”, said Colin Batch. The Black Sticks coach also gave credit to the Irish goalkeeper: “David Harte had a very good game today.” Irish coach Craig Fulton added: “I have a very young team. David gives a lot of confidence to them.”

Batch’s Black Sticks started the second half with another early goal when Hugo Inglis (42’) converted the rebound of a Markus Child shot. Despite enjoying slightly more ball possession in the third quarter, the Green Machine could not fight their way back into the contest. The last quarter saw New Zealand pushing for a third goal, but the Irish defence held firm. 

“This was a nice mental challenge to get through”, Fulton said. “I’m happy with our first match.”

Japan v Poland 3-2 (1-2)

Japan bounced back in Saturday’s second match to beat Poland 3-2. The winner came off a Hiroki Sakamoto penalty corner goal on nine minutes remaining. Earlier, Poland had given away a 1-0 and 2-1 lead. 

The match started with high intensity from both sides. After Michal Raciniewski (7’) has taken the lead for Poland, his team started dancing on the pitch. However, the lead did not last long as Japan struck back one minute later. Team captain Koji Kayukawa (8’) was unmarked in the circle and made no mistake of slotting the ball past goalkeeper Arkadiusz Matuszak.

Poland got on the scoreboard before halftime when Adrian Krokosz (29’) added another goal from open play. The third quarter saw Japan’s Ippei Fujimoto (50’) scoring a stunning goal when he took the ball reverse-stick-side to fire it underneath the crossbar. The score now was tied 2-2.

In the last quarter both teams went for the winner with both having chances to seal it. However, the winner was eventually scored by Sakamoto converting Japan’s only penalty corner in the 61st minute.