SINGAPORE - The national men's floorball team are on course to at least match their best finish at the World Floorball Championship (WFC) after they secured a hard-fought 9-5 Group D win over world No. 16 Japan at the O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic on Monday (Dec 3).
In the WFC, 16 teams are divided into four groups. The two best teams from Groups A and B proceed to the quarter-finals. The bottom two teams from Groups A and B will play the top two teams from Groups C and D for the remaining four quarter-final spots.
Following Sunday's 4-4 draw against world No. 12 Canada, the Republic (17th) are now second in the group with three points (two points for a win) and in the driver's seat to qualify for the top-12 playoffs.
World No. 10 Slovakia lead the group with four points after beating Canada 12-3 on Saturday and Japan 15-1 on Sunday. Canada are third with one point and Japan bottom with two losses.
Singapore will make the top 12 with a draw against Slovakia or if Canada fail to beat Japan on Tuesday. If Canada beat Japan, Singapore will have to ensure they have a better goal difference than the North Americans.
In Monday's thrilling end-to-end match, Singapore took the lead thrice in the first two 20-minute periods but each time, Japan had an answer and pegged them back at 1-1, 2-2, and 5-5.
Attacks down the flanks seemed to pay dividends for the Republic as R. Suria set up Hafiz Zubir for the opener after four minutes, but Danjiro Maeda equalised three minutes later.
Defender Hamka Shah regained the lead for Singapore with a long-range effort in the 10th minute, but Maeda replied with an almost identical effort right after the restart.
Mazran Sutiman was the beneficiary from fine assists by Tan Yiru and Siraaj Ramadhan to make it 4-2 for Singapore by the 17th minute, before Ichiro Ueda reduced the arrears with a 19th-minute penalty.
Singapore goalkeeper Jay Pal Singh Sindhu made a big save from Kaimu Abe's penalty in the 24th minute, which paved the way for Gary Wong to open up another two-goal lead after being set up by Vignesa Pasupathy.
But defensive lapses allowed Ueda to complete his hat-trick in the last three minutes of the second period to set up a nerve-wracking final period.
However, Vignesa stepped up to the plate and was in the right place at the right time when he latched on to Nicholas Chua's 48th-minute rebound off the back board and Siraaj's 55th-minute cut back from the flank to make it 7-5 before Ng Juin Jie and Hafiz scored clinically to improve Singapore's goal difference in the final two minutes.
The resounding victory was Singapore's first WFC win over Japan and sweet revenge for defeats in the 2010 and 2012 editions which consigned the Republic to last-place finishes.
Should the Republic make it to the top 12, it will be the first time they escape the wooden spoon. They finished last out of 12 teams in the inaugural tournament in 1996, and 16th in 2010, 2012 and 2016.