Japan’s wheelchair rugby team have continued a week of history-making results with a stunning upset of the USA in Thursday’s (9 August) semi-finals at the 2018 World Championship in Sydney, Australia.
The world’s No.4-ranked team progressed to the gold medal match at a major tournament for the first time with a near faultless 51-46 victory over the Rio 2016 silver medallists.
An over-and-back violation committed by US star Chuck Aoki in the final 30 seconds of the opening period gave Japan the upper hand, and they forced more turnovers in the second quarter to lead 28-23 at half-time.
The USA continued to push, but only got within four points as Japan completed a memorable performance.
They now face a rematch with Australia, who held off a determined Great Britain outfit, 59-57, in the other semi-final.
“We lost to them (Australia) yesterday, so we have to play better,” Japan’s Masayuki Haga said.
“In the first half (Thursday), we executed what we had planned and we were really happy.
“Both sides created turnovers in the second half, but we tried to focus on what we had to do and we managed to hold them until the end.
US coach James Gumbert said turnovers hurt his team.
“Every time we felt like we were within striking distance, we’d have a turnover,” Gumbert said.
“The thing that beat us was our own mistakes and as painful as it is, it’s an extremely important lesson that we’ve learned.
“We didn’t come into this game with expectations that we were going to run through this team because they’re a great team.
“We have to look at the gift that it gave us and right now that’s hard, but it does show we’re a team, we’re not one guy or two guys.”
Defending champions through
For Australia, their tight victory over Great Britain was a relief.
“I dare say tomorrow is going to be much the same, but I’m proud of the guys that we got it home,” Australian Chris Bond said.
“They (Great Britain) play a very balanced style of game and that seems to work well against our high-low, so we’ve got some work to do next time we play them.
“They’ve (Japan) been a team we’ve had close games with over the last few years, but we really, really want this win.
“We try to lift at major events, this is a major event on home soil and I’m going to say 80 to 90 per cent of the crowd will be on our side.”
Great Britain will look to exact revenge on a tight loss to the USA in the pool phase when they meet them for bronze Friday.
France’s best finish
France will also have its best finish at a World Championship, regardless of its result in the fifth-place playoff on Friday.
They won their crossover game, 54-42, against European rivals Sweden on Thursday and take on Canada in their final matchup.
Sebastien Verdin is playing in his first international tournament and has been a breakout player for France throughout the week.
“It’s difficult to say if it’s the best victory because the first game against Canada was good as well,” he said.
Canada secured its place against France with a thrilling 52-51 victory against Denmark earlier in the day.
“We left an exciting one, but that’s kind of how we like to do it,” Canada’s Travis Murao said.
“We’ve slowly built momentum throughout the tournament, it’s a long tournament, so it’s great that we had the opportunity and hopefully we can carry that into the game against France.”
Scandinavian rivals Sweden and Denmark will line up for the second time this week, with the winner to finish seventh at the tournament.
Colombia also grabbed its second victory, prevailing in double over-time against New Zealand.
“We’ve been training very hard and we thought we could have been in a better position, but we are happy with the result today,” Colombian Moises Alonso said.
Poland will face Colombia in the battle for ninth place after prevailing against Ireland 49-44.
“We worked as a team, focused on the tactical plan of the coach and the game was slowly turning our way, so we kept going and kept pushing,” Poland’s Rafal Rocki said.
New Zealand and Ireland clash to determine 11th and 12th place.
The bronze and gold medal matches will be shown live here on the International Paralympic Committee's website.