The day before the finals can in some way be even more important than the last day because if you fail today then you lose your chance of even competing for the title of World Champion. So it was for the top-4 ranked countries who played the semi-finals. Lose today and all that they have been working towards, being the champions, is lost.
Finland & Czech Republic, having finished third & fourth in their group, first had to play an early morning quarterfinal. Finland took on Spain – a game they were confident enough of winning that they only brought 2 lines to the bench, while Czech Republic had a tougher opponent in Slovakia, a country that has shown great improvement and has been challenging the top nations at all levels over the last couple of years. However, the Czechs were not be upset by their smaller neighbour.
Slovakia was able to deny the Czechs from scoring for most of the first period, but then they scored three goals in just two minutes, a situation which the Slovaks never recovered from. Slovakia´s only goal came in a powerplay at the end of the game. The 8-1 victory for Czech Republic put them in the semifinal against Sweden later in the evening. As expected the Finns made light work of the Spanish, whose regular goalkeeper was still injured, and had been replaced by one of their defenders. Even with half of their team being rested they were still able to pile on 23 goals with no reply from Spain. They moved on to a semifinal spot for a replay of last night´s match against Switzerland in which they struggled.
The women´s semi-finals were played between FIN – SUI and SWE – CZE and the results went according to the rankings. The first period of the match between Finland and Switzerland was characterised by a very controlled and accurate defence from both teams. The Finnish first line, composed of players who all had played in the IFF World Championships in 2015, gave Finland the lead. The single goal first period was blitzed by the Finns in the second, outscoring Switzerland 7-1, and not allowing them any chance to challenge them. The Finnish were strong in front of the Swiss goal, scoring five times from rebounds while, at the other end, Finnish goalie Tiltu Siltanen made a number of important saves on the few Swiss chances. The final score was 9-2.
During this tournament, the Swiss have been really competitive in all their matches but somehow just lack that extra bit of skill needed to make the right pass at the right time or choose the right shot opportunities. In defence, it is being just one step behind their opponent or slightly misreading the play. There seems to be just small differences between them and teams like Finland or Sweden, but in the end, when all those little things are put together it proves to be a big difference.
The Czechs had played in Group B and had only one tough game which was against Poland, so the step up in their opposition for today´s semi-final was always going to be challenging for them. Playing Sweden is hard at any time for any team, but when you have not really had your defence tested then it is harder still. The first two periods were very even, with teams trading goals, and the play being evenly shared. There was no sign of either team getting the upperhand. Both teams have players experienced at international level, Sweden even have an IFF World Champion MVP in Anna Wijk, and the Czechs were not backing off. It took until mid-way through the final period for Sweden to open the Czechs up and once they did they broke them. Four goals in four minutes and the game was decided for Sweden. Final score of 8-4 put Sweden to the final against Finland and the Czechs to the bronze game with Switzerland.
Before the men´s semi-finals there were four group placement matches, for the men´s 7th-9th positions and the women´s 5th-7th. Each of the three teams in these groups will play each other once and the final positions will be decided according to the results of these matches. For the women, Spain played Japan in the morning and despite their best game of the tournament they narrowly lost 4-2. In the afternoon they faced Poland and the combination of tired legs and a stronger opponent ended with a 15-0 win for the Polish. This means that Spain will finish in 7th place and Poland & Japan will play tomorrow to decide 5th & 6th place.
In the men´s tournament, it was Korea who had the two games today, with their morning opponent being Portugal. As with every game previously, Portugal just keep on improving. The confidence they have gained during the tournament is visible in their play, and they are being rewarded with good results. They took the lead within the opening two minutes of the game and never gave it up, winning 6-3. In the evening match, Korea played their Asian rival, Japan, and it was a great game. Both teams played positive, attacking floorball and the enthusiasm from both benches was amazing. The Koreans, standing arm-in arm at their bench, even sang their cheer when one of their players was taking a penalty shot – you don´t see that too often. The last 5 minutes of the game was frantic. After equalising to 2-2 but then missing a penalty shot and being scored against short-handed it looked like it was all going sour for the Koreans as the Japanese started to fire, but they kept pressing and with just 9 seconds left in the game they managed to equalise. Japan will play Portugal tomorrow and only after this match will the men´s 7-9 placings be confirmed.
That left the final two matches of the day – the men´s semi-finals. In yesterday´s group match, Switzerland shocked Finland after getting out to a 5-0 lead and denying them the chance to score right until the end of the second period and then finally defeating them 6-3. Today, Finland completely reversed that situation, making a 5-0 opening period that must have just crushed the spirit of the Swiss. To their credit the Swiss hung in there and got a few goals back, but it was a different opponent than Switzerland had faced yesterday, the Finnish mindset was focussed completely on winning.
The Swedish team competing here is, compared to the other top-4 ranked countries, a relatively inexperienced team when it comes to internationals, but it shows the depth of Floorball in Sweden that they can still be so strong. They would´ve been surprised by their opening match defeat to Finland, which they lost 9-4, and although they lack no ability with individual skills it has been their ability to work as a team which has clearly improved with each game and is now the key to their success. Both the individual skill and the teamwork created some beautiful goals in this match for Sweden, none better than their fourth which had three perfect one-time passes and sharp finish or their fifth goal which was just an individual show of determination to score. Although the Czech men, like the Czech women, were never stepping back from their opponent, they just couldn´t match their level of play. So, tomorrow, a Finland v Sweden final, with a Czech Republic v Switzerland bronze game.
For all results, statistics, match times and live stream links go to the IFF WUC Event page.
For photos go to IFF Flickr