|November 8th, 2009|
|18||Final 1-2||4:00pm||PAK - JPN||3 - 1 (2 - 1)||Final|
1st-2nd – Pakistan v. Japan: 3-1 (half-time: 2-1)
The Final of this first World Cup Qualifier started under a pleasant (if not very warm…) sun and in front of a large attendance, including a fair number of noisy flag waving Pakistani fans. Pakistan pushed immediately and created some chances, but Katsuya TAKASE in the Japanese goal thwarted their first attempts. Japan surprised them with one of their trademark counter-attacks and earned a penalty-corner, where they tried an elaborate combination that ended just inches wide.
After this wild start, Pakistan settled down and tried to take control of play, with Waseem AHMED very present in midfield. They opened the scoring by Abdul Haseem KHAN in the 12th minute after a decisive run by Shakeel ABBASI over 50 meters amongst the whole Japanese defense. They maintained their pressure, but Japan did not give up any inch and it took a penalty-corner in the 24th minute by the always reliable Sohail ABBAS to increase their lead.
Japan did not give up though, and reduced the gap by a clever penalty-corner by their captain Kazuhiro TSUBOUCHI, flicking low out of reach of Salman AKBAR in the Pakistani goal. This upset Pakistan and they pushed hard in the final minutes of the period, overwhelming the Japanese defense, but they could not score and half-time was reached with a single-goal lead for the favorites.
Pakistan earned a penalty-stroke early in second period after a defender stopped illegally a penalty-corner but, incredibly, Shakeel ABBASI put it wide and Japan nearly tied the game on their immediate counter-attack! The Japanese players were closing down very quickly on the Pakistani attackers, preventing them from developing their fast game, but they could not do anything on another stunning Sohail ABBAS penalty-corner that shaved the crossbar.
Even with a more comfortable two-goal cushion, Pakistan were not out of the wood yet. They had to survive two penalty-corners and a flurry of attacks by Japanese players who didn’t seem to feel any fatigue despite their incessant high speed runs. In the final ten minutes, play was nearly exclusively in the defensive zone of Pakistan, and the Pakistani players were relieved to hear the final buzzer. They certainly deserved their win, and the qualification for the 2010 World Cup, but Japan were very worthy opponents in a spectacular Final.
Pakistan join the nine teams already qualified for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 (Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Korea, Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and host India). Two more spots are available and will go to the winner of the second World Cup Qualifier, which has just started in Invercargill, New Zealand, and the third one, which starts next week in Quilmes, Argentina.