With Belgium logically winning the tournament and qualifying for the next round of the World League, the last match of the day was the perfect climax to the competition: with similar results during the week, France and Canada were fighting for the 2nd position in the standings and a qualification for the semi-finals of the World League (depending on the results of the last Round 2 tournament at the end of the month in Russia). The French slight advantage in goal-difference did not mean anything since the matches of the World League always end with a winner, either after regular time or after a series of shoot-outs.
Canada have a marginally better World Ranking (14th vs. 17th), but it was clear during the week that the two teams are very close to each other, in style of play, strengths and weaknesses, as reflected in their last result in official competition (1-1 at the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi).
A large flag waving crowd was on hand to cheer the French team, and the tone of the match was immediately given by a harsh tackle by a French defender on a Canadian forward, who took a long time to stand up. Both teams were visibly nervous and committed unforced errors in the opening minutes. Canada forced a penalty-corner in the 5th minute of play; the initial shot was saved by Martin Zylbermann, but David Jameson was on hand to pick-up the ball after a series of rebounds and slot it high in goal, silencing the home crowd.
Scott Tupper scored another penalty-corner soon after to establish a 2-goal lead, but the French players finally settled their nerves and also scored a penalty-corner by Viktor Lockwood. It was suddenly the turn of the Canadian defense to be under intense pressure, and they were saved on another penalty-corner by an excellent Dave Carter in goal.
Pace of play (and the crowd) became quieter with 10 minutes to go in the period, neither team wanting to take too much risk. Canada earned a penalty-corner in the last minute of the period but could not capitalize and the break was reached on a 2-1 score for Canada, and the feeling that the final result could go either way.
France immediately forced a penalty-corner on their first action of second period, but Dave Carter in the Canadian goal was once again on hand with a flying save. After the initial excitement, play settled in midfield, with both teams working very hard but without creating clear chances. France earned another penalty-corner on a high ball rebounding in the circle, but were yet again denied by Carter.
The Canadians were clearly under pressure, but nevertheless managed to maintain their defensive structure. They were lucky on a few occasions and were still holding their meagre advantage with 20 minutes to go. Play was however confined in their defensive end and, with one less player on the bench, they were starting to show some fatigue. It was only a question of time and Viktor Lockwood finally scored his second penalty-corner of the match, setting up a torrid end of match with both teams on par and back to square one.
Canada had a chance against the run of play soon after, but Scott Tupper’s flick flew just high of the crossbar. With time passing, the tension was palpable, on the pitch and in the stands. The deadlock was finally broken by Matthieu Durchon, collecting the rebound from a penalty-corner and slotting it over the sliding keeper.
With the clock ticking down, the Canadians desperately pushed forward to grab the equalizer, but they ran out of steam and Les Bleus and their fans were soon celebrating their win. They will now need to wait for the results of the last Round 2 tournament in Russia to know if they are invited to play in the next round of the World League.
Player of the Tournament: Tom BOON, Belgium
Goal-keeper of the Tournament: Martin ZYLBERMANN, France
Top Scorer: Tom BOON, Belgium, 15 Goals