Asian Games champions Japan fought back from a goal down to thrash Poland 6-2 in a cross-over stage match to get a dream semi-final date with hosts India in the FIH Men’s Series Finals hockey tournament here on Wednesday.
Japan, who have already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as hosts, are playing here for ranking points and had reached Bhubaneswar hoping to meet India in the final.
That hope was shattered after a combative United States held them to a 2-2 draw in their last league encounter, pushing them to a second-place finish in Pool B that pushed them into the cross-over matches instead of a direct semi-final berth. India last met Japan in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in March, winning 2-0.
South Africa claimed the last berth in the semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Russia, who were second in Pool A behind India. South Africa will take on United States in the first semi-final on Friday and India will meet Japan in the second match. Mexico defeated Uzbekistan 4-3 to finish seventh in the eight-team competition.
The spotlight at the Kalinga Stadium on Wednesday was on the Japan-Poland match as the winner would meet the hosts.
Initially, it looked like Japan were in for trouble when Poland scored in the seventh minute through a field goal by Mikolaj Gumny and held that advantage at the end of the first quarter.
However, Japan regrouped and dominated the second quarter. They struck twice through Shota Yamada (20th min) and Hirotaka Zendana (23rd min), both via penalty corners.
Poland was not ready to surrender as they struck back and levelled scores with Mateusz Hulboj making it 2-2 in the 26th minute.
The second half belonged to Japan as they scored twice in each quarter for an impressive victory. After Poland held the upper hand in the first quarter, Japan dominated possession in the remaining three quarters, had more circle entries and shots at goal than their rivals.
South Africa took the lead against Russia in the 40th minute through Nqobile Ntuli’s penalty corner conversion. Russia levelled scores soon when Georgii Arusiia slotted in a penalty corner. Just when the match looked like ending in a draw and go to shoot-out, South Africa scored the winner in the fourth quarter through Ryan Julius after a good move. Russia exerted pressure but the South African defence thwarted those attempts.