The round-robin phase of the FIH World Cup Qualifier in Lille, France, ended with Japan defeating France (3-2) in a hard-fought battle to reach the final on Sunday against Pakistan, who suffered a surprising defeat against a valiant Polish team (2-3).
Game 13 – Pakistan v. Poland: 2-3 (half-time: 1-0)
Pakistan and Poland opened the last day of round-robin play under heavy clouds, but the torrential morning rain stopped just in time for the National Anthems. It took time for the match to gain some structure, both teams initially favoring long runs to try and warm up. Pakistan benefitted early from a harsh penalty-corner but Sohail ABBAS flicked it too high.
Game 14 – Russia v. Italy: 2-2 (half-time: 0-2)
The second game of the day had little interest for the rankings: whatever the result, the two teams knew that they would meet again on Sunday to play the 5th and 6th place. They nevertheless played an entertaining match and Italy were promptly up by two goals, both scored by Massimo LANZANO. Russia were far from the form they displayed against France on Thursday, scrambling a number of good chances, and half-time was reached with the 2-0 score-line for Italy.Game 15 – France v. Japan: 2-3 (half-time: 1-2)
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.
FIH World Cup Qualifier, Men –
Pakistan - Poland 2:3 (1:0)
PAK 29mn Muhammad WAQAS (FG) 1:0
PAK 42mn Muhammad ZUBAIR (FG) 2:0
POL 45mn Artur MIKUŁA (FG) 2:1
POL 58mn Bartosz ŻYWICZKA (FG) 2:2
POL 60mn Krzysztof KMIEĆ (PC) 2:3
Russia - Italy 2:2 (0:2)
ITA 11mn Massimo LANZANO (PC) 0:1
ITA 17mn Massimo LANZANO (PC) 0:2
RUS 48mn Evgeny MOKROUSOV (FG) 1:2
RUS 60mn Alexander KOROLEV (FG) 2:2
France - Japan 2:3 (1:2)
JPN 6mn Manabu HATAKEYAMA (PC) 0:1
FRA 21mn Tom GENESTET (FG) 1:1
JPN 28mn Manabu HATAKEYAMA (PC) 1:2
JPN 65mn Hiroki SAKAMOTO (FG) 1:3
FRA 67mn Frédéric SOYEZ (FG) 2:3
Round-Robin Final Standings: 1) Pakistan 12pts (22-6) 2) Japan 12pts (14-10) 3) Poland 10pts 4) France 7pts 5) Russia 1pt (6-17) 6) Italy 1pt (3-17)