Japan 3 vs. 6 Belgium
6.00 push back
These two teams have been amongst my favourites so far, playing attacking, exciting hockey and have been unlucky not to have done better in their two previous games. As I look around the Lee Valley stadium, I see a few Japanese flags, but the Belgiums are making the most noise and they have brought their drum back with them. A cheer goes up as each Belgium player’s name is called out by the announcer. After a loss and a draw in their previous matches, the Red Panthers definitely want to win this one.
The Japanese are pressing very high, nearly picking the pocket of a Belgium defender on her own goal line, but Belgium, playing in an all white kit, see the ball away. In the fifth minute Japan shell a ball into the attacking circle, but no forward is able to get a touch and it goes off the byline and out of play.
In the seventh minute, the ball strikes a Japanese foot in their own circle and Belgium win the first short corner of the game. Joanne Peetres slips to Aline Fobe, who slaps a shot towards goal. It’s deflected and pushed away, but Judith Vandermeiren is at the left hand post to tap in the rebound and the Red Panthers take the lead.
Belgium seem to have been drinking rocket fuel in preparation for this game. They are full of life and energy, wanting to move with ambition. Barbara Nelen drives the ball forward, in a counter attack, but the pass doesn’t quite find her team mate. The first period finishes with only the one goal though.
We see a continuation of the Europeans ethos from the first period in the second. Belgium win the ball with a sideline hit after an unforced error by Japan. Nelen picks it up and smashes it from a 45 degree angle into the circle, and with a glancing tap in from Jill Boon, to stick it behind the Japanese keeper.Belgium two goals ahead. In the third minute the Japanese refer to the video umpire, asking for a short corner for a foot in the Belgium circle. It’s given and Japan line up to try to find an equaliser. There’s a misunderstanding between the forward at the top of the circle and injector, though, and the ball roles off the back line.
The Aishling D’Hooghe makes a fantastic stop with her stick, after a far post pass from Japan, knocking away a certain goal. In the ninth minute, Jill Boon spins her defender pushes the ball forward, into the circle, finding her team mate Anne-Sophie Weyns in plenty of space. She takes the goal gladly for a three point advantage. Belgium are moving forward with a fluidity that is similar to the Dutch. There is a sense of precision and pace about the way that they attack. This is a shame for the Japanese, as if they are knocked out today, then there will be lesser teams still in the competition. What a second period from Belgium. Two goals scored, making the game 3 – 0 in their favour.
In the third minute of the third quarter, we see a lovely build up move from Belgium, which culminates with a firm pass from Boon into the forward Versavel. It’s a good first touch and then a turn and strike into the bottom right hand corner of the Japanese goal. They are really running away with it now and the scoreline is starting to look insurmountable for a rather decent Japanese team.
Soon after this, we see a change of keepers for the Cherry Blossoms, with Megumi Kageyama coming off in favour of Erika Akaya. At this point Japan win a short corner. It’s sent hard and low to the D’Hooghe’s right and Akiko Kato, who’s right in front of the Belgium keeper takes a touch to lift it over the top of her. The score is now Japan 1 – 4 Belgium.
In the eighth minute Belgium win a short corner. The shot is a drag flick that’s sent over the bar. An attack from the resulting hit out, sees Minami Shimizu shown a green card. Belgium take full advantage on the one player advantage and Versavel gets her second goal of the game. Soon afterwards Japan’s Motomi Kawamura gets a five minute suspension after being shown a yellow card. At the end of the third quarter Belgium lead Japan five goals to one.
We are now into the fourth and final period of the match. Japan’s discipline is becoming an issue, with another of their players shown a green card. Soon after this, Belgium win another short corner. It’s a drag flick that bounces in off of the bar. It’s a hat trick for Versavel making it six in total for her team.
Shimizu picks the ball up in the Belgium circle and wins a short corner. It is injected out to Kana Nomura, who immediately puts it away into the bottom left hand corner. New Zealand 6 – 2 Japan This equals the Dutch vs China and Argentina vs Spain games for the highest scoring match in the tournament so far. With three minutes remaining Japan are awarded a short corner, but the decision is referred. It’s turned down, and Belgium lose their referral. The powerful strike from number Hazuki Nagai who puts the ball through the keepers legs and they get a goal back. This is now the highest scoring goal in the competition. The final score is Japan 3 – 6 Belgium.