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Hard-fought win gives Spain semis slot
September 13, 2006 21:25 IST
Spain joined Australia in the semi-finals of the 11th FIH men's hockey World Cup after scoring a hard-fought but unimpressive 4-2 victory over Japan in their concluding Pool A match in Monchengladbach, Germany, on Wednesday.
Playing in searing mid-afternoon heat, Spain struggled to find their rhythm and fluency and had a few close shaves before coming through with goals by Santiago Freixa (44th, 57th, 66th minute) and Pol Amat (22nd).
Kenichi Katayama (15th, 48th minute) scored for Japan.
The victory took Spain to 11 points, two more than Australia, who had ensured qualification on Tuesday.
Japan finished at the bottom of the pool with three points from a lone win against Argentina.
Japan were distinctly unlucky to lose, for they had their chances and repeatedly troubled the Spanish defence with nippy moves, quite a few of which led to penalty-corners. But the absence of a specialist drag-flicker weighed them down and they were unable to convert any.
At the other end, Spain played well in patches and it was left to their hard-working forwards to do most of the work, with Amat and Freixta teaming up for a deadly combination.
However, for much of the time, Spain seemed to be playing at half-pace and, at times, tempers ran on short fuse, especially when in the second-half the Japanese were first awarded a goal which was referred to the video umpire after a strong protest from the Spanish bench, with coach Maurits Hendricks running on the pitch.
Katayama's goal was subsequently upheld even as Hendricks was escorted off the pitch.
The tournament takes a day's break on Thursday before the classification matches on the weekend.