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 March 4, 2002 | 1900 IST
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Japan end England's semi-final hopes

Two goals from Japanese captain Takahiko Yamahori ended England's hopes of a semi-final place in the men's hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

Japan ran out 2-1 winners to notch their second victory of the championship and first ever win over England.

The English went into the match needing a hatful of goals to give them any chance of progressing beyond the group stage.

"This is huge disappointment and a huge disappointment that we played so badly for last 25 minutes of the first half," said England coach Malcolm Wood.

"We played to plan for the first seven minutes which was to put pressure on them. Then we stopped defending and paid the price," he added.

After soaking up initial English pressure, Japan showed they intended to make England's ambitions as difficult as possible.

In the 18th minute, the pace of their attack completely fooled the English defence leaving Yamahori to roll the ball into the net with English keeper Simon Mason out of position.

Japan's Jun Takahashi saved four English penalty corner shots before halftime but the game had swung to Japan.

Their close control and accurate passing moved the bigger, heavier English players around in the fierce sun and it was no surprise when Yamahori whacked home his side's first penalty corner after 24 minutes.

Just after the interval Yamahori should have collected a hat-trick and he then set up Kenji Asai only for Mason to make the first of several second half saves.

TEAM WILTING

Five minutes from the end Dave Mathews finally converted England's seventh penalty corner but it came too late for a team wilting in the sun.

"England is a very strong country and our plan was to get the ball behind the England defenders," said Japanese coach Yamanaka Manabu who is now on target to meet his ambition of achieving eighth position at the end of the tournament.

In pool A -- the so-called pool of death -- Germany with 15 points have a two-point advantage over the Netherlands while Pakistan (12 points), Argentina (12) and Spain (11) all have a chance of reaching the semifinals.

In the final programme of pool matches on Tuesday, in pool A Pakistan play Germany, the Netherlands meet South Africa, Argentina play Spain and Belgium meet New Zealand.

In pool B, Korea play England, Australia play India, Malaysia meet Poland and Cuba play Japan.

The top two teams from each group go through to the semifinals on March 7 ahead of the final at the National Hockey Stadium on March 9.

The remaining teams play off for positions 5-16 in the world hockey standings.

Mail Sports Editor

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