China 2, Japan 3
For China, today’s 3-2 loss against Japan in a do-or-die match must be considered the one that got away. Ahead 2-1 with 12 minutes left, China conceded two goals and ultimately lost its place in Sunday’s final as they watched their Asian rival earn the berth instead.
Kazuhiro Tsubouchi sealed the victory with just seconds left in regulation when he found himself on a breakaway with an empty net after China pulled its goalie for the extra attacker. The crowd jumped on its feet as the game-winner clanked on the back board of the goal.
Japan found itself constantly on defense as China came out with an aggressive attack. Perhaps at times the attack was too aggressive as Japan’s first two goals were the result of Chinese shenanigans in the circle, resulting in a penalty stroke and a penalty corner goal.
China opened up an early lead when Na Yubo deflected the ball in on a penalty corner attempt. After the goal, Japan kept finding itself with breakaway chances, but continually fired off mark. The equalizer came with seven minutes left in the half when Koji Kayukawa went to the lower left corner on a penalty stroke to level things at one. But Yubo struck again, this time with an odd angle goal that caught Japan off guard making it a 2-1 affair at the half.
Japan’s best, and virtually only, chances came on the penalty corner in the second half and with 12 minutes left in the game, they finally took advantage of one of the opportunities when Katsuyoshi Nagasawa flicked in a beautiful shot to the upper corner, evening things at two. Japan was nearly given a penalty stroke on the play, but after the umpires conferred it was made a penalty corner. The goal had to have been frustrating for the Chinese who were clearly the more offensive team in the half, swarming the Japan net much of the time.
China put complete pressure on Japanese net in the waning minutes of the game, but couldn’t get the go-ahead goal. In a must-win situation, the Chinese had no choice but to pull the goalkeeper leading to the empty net marker.
Japan’s win took the pressure off South Africa, who entered the late game against Austria with their place already booked in the final against Japan.
South Africa 2, Austria 2
South Africa knew it was in Sunday’s final game regardless of the outcome of its last round robin game, which might help explain today’s flat 2-2 draw against Austria. But credit must be given to the Austrians who managed to do what only one other team as this tournament has done – tie the top-seeded South Africans.
Austria’s Michael Korper has been the go-to man for the Austrians, so it seemed only fitting that he scored on his team’s first short corner chance to give the Austria the surprising 1-0 lead midway through the first half.
South Africa came out in the second half rearing to go and finally netted the equalizer when captain Austin Smith fired in a short corner 15 minutes into the half. Austria took the lead again after Georg Jelinek scooped the ball in after a prolonged stay in the circle. But again Smith was there with the answer, tying the game at two with virtually the exact same penalty corner shot as his first marker.
South Africa will certainly need to bring a different game in Sunday’s final against Japan if it wants to make it to the London Games, but with little on the line today, they can be forgiven for having an off game. Austria will face China in the third place game on Sunday.
Czech Republic 5, Brazil 0
The Czech Republic earned its first win of the tournament with a convincing 5-0 victory against Brazil. The teams will meet again on Sunday in the fifth-place game.
The victory was a total team effort for the Czechs with five different players scoring the five goals. Four of the goals came from the open field, while the lone penalty corner marker was flicked in by Tomas Prochazka.
The perky Czechs put in one of their best performances of the tournament, playing a solid game and allowing very few mistakes. At the half the Czechs held a convincing 3-0 lead and the advantage allowed the team to relax a bit and focus on offense rather than its defensive mindset it had in previous games.
Another two second half goals, coming 20 minutes apart, put the icing on the cake of the first win. Brazil is still winless at the event and will look to rebound in the fifth-place game.