Japan Lacrosse had one goal for 2018: Redemption.
In 2014, Scotland relegated Japan outside of the top six in a 10-9 double-overtime heartbreaker, making 2018 the first World Championships in which Japan Lacrosse competed outside of the Blue Division since 2002.
On Thursday, Japan got Scotland back in a 11-7 handling of its foe, completing the first step in its revenge tour back to the Blue Division.
The Japanese finished the second and final step Friday, topping Israel 10-9 in a rematch of the seventh-place game in Denver that the Israelis won.
Although Israel was able to get quality looks on Japan’s defense, it couldn’t solve the final question standing in net enough. Japanese goalie Shunsuke Hattori stole the show through periods of the game, making many acrobatic and last-ditch saves that could have sunk Japan otherwise, finishing the night with 11 stops.
Israel clawed back after falling behind 6-2 in the second quarter, with defender Isaac Papparo coming up with a hat trick with the long pole to bring the Israelis back into the game. But Japan stood firm, never allowing Israel to bring the scoreline level.
“They’ve got a couple goals in transition, a couple goals we would probably like to revisit on film and figure out where we went wrong with it,” said Israel assistant coach Brad MacArthur. “It seemed every time we had a response, they’d come up with a good stop or an opportunity would go their way and the ball would be in the back of our net. We can’t keep constantly coming from behind and expect to win games in this tournament, not when you’re this deep.”
Israel hung around the entirety of the second half, though, even drawing within one off a midfielder Max Seibald goal with less than five minutes to play. But it wasn’t enough to bring Israel into the Blue Division for the first time in program history. Japan Lacrosse was on its way to the 5th place game.
The game was not without controversy. In the game’s last minute, a ball went out on the sideline after an errant pass. A Japanese player refused to put the ball down, and so an Israeli took matters into his own hands, ran through and picked it up. Contact was made, and the ball was given to Japan.
“No explanation, no nothing, no conference,” MacArthur said. “Japan was awarded the ball.”
The call led to a firestorm on the Israeli sideline and plenty of heated debates with officials after the final whistle, but it was too late.
This comes as a very difficult reality for Israel to accept.
These World Championships were a prime opportunity for the team to medal or qualify for the 2022 Blue Division, but now neither of those will come to fruition.
There is still a seventh-place game left to be played for Israel, but in relation to where hopes had been placed, it’s little more than consolation now.
“It’s the toughest pill you ever swallowed,” MacArthur said. “We’ve got probably the second-largest group in Israel Lacrosse history compared to last night and we have a chance to promote ourselves into the A Group with a shot at doing some great things for the sport in this country. There’s a lot of guys who have put a lot of time and effort into being here, contributing on the field and off the field. I think they certainly wanted a better outcome.”
Japan Lacrosse is going back to the Blue Division. For the Japanese team, this is a monumental moment of earning their way back in.