Bhubaneswar: USA and Japan chalked out contrasting victories over their respective rivals to set up a clash for the top place of pool B in the FIH Men’s hockey Series Finals here on Saturday.
USA routed Mexico 9-0 while Asian Games champion Japan battled to down South Africa 2-0 to be levelled with six points each ahead of their last Pool game.
The match between Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) neighbours started on the right foot for the USA team. They scored just three minutes after the initial centre pass through Michael Barminski Jr from short distance after a fine cross from his teammate Alberto Montilla.
One minute before the end of the first quarter, Julian Croonenberghs deflected a powerful shot from Paul Singh into the goal, making it a perfect start for USA.
After the quarter break, the USA side continued to put pressure on Mexico and despite several brilliant saves, goalkeeper Jose Hernandez could not stop Tyler Sundeen from celebrating his 100th cap by scoring the third goal for his team a few seconds before half-time.
The game continued to follow the same pattern in the second half. Mexico was struggling to create meaningful attacking opportunities while Rutger Wiese’s players’ offensive efficiency continued. Sean Cicchi, twice with drag-flicks from penalty corners, Alberto Montilla, after a beautiful cross from Kei Kaeppeler, Christian de Angelis, from short distance, Michael Barminski Jr, after a nice team combination in a short space within the circle and finally William Holt, from a penalty stroke, consolidated the convincing USA performance.
For their last Pool games, USA will take on Japan while Mexico will face South Africa on 10 June.
Earlier Japan’s Head Coach Siegried Aikman had expressed in very clear words his disappointment about his team’s performance in their first game, despite a win over Mexico. His players surely wanted to do better and they started immediately on a high tempo, piling multiple attacks on South Africa’s goal.
The first one finished with a good shot from Kenta Tanaka. This was quickly followed by his teammate Kota Watanabe, whose hopes of opening the scoring were denied by experienced goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse. An individual effort from Kazuma Murata – to be elected later Man of the Match – may have deserved a better fate but his attempt went slightly off the goalposts.
While the African champions tried to create opportunities to open the scoring, it was their Asian counterparts who managed to do so, in a beautiful manner. Suguru Hoshi, who celebrated his 100th cap today, gave a magnificent long pass to Kentaro Fukuda, who converted the offering into Japan’s first goal in this match, shortly before half-time.
One goal down, South Africa had to show a more offensive face in the second half. They did so, but Japan were in determined mood and, despite Rassie Pieterse’s outstanding performance, Japan doubled their lead with Kazuma Murata concluding a magnificent team movement with a delightful deflection goal.
In the last quarter, South Africa created a great chance from a penalty corner but their two consecutive shots on goal were brilliantly cleared by Japan’s goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa. Japan were not only defending well but also taking every opportunity to add a third goal to their tally. While they did not achieve that, they came out as winners of this continental champions’ duel.
Japan’s captain Manabu Yamashita: “We had a good game today. All players worked hard together and showed good mentality. We had some really nice phases in that match. Against USA, we will need to improve further our performance.”
South Africa’s captain Tim Drummond: “We’re disappointed with the result but we all take a lot of confidence from how we played. We created good chances, we had a much better structure than against USA. Now, we need to recover quickly and learn quick because Mexico is a very important game for us.”