Spain joined Australia in the semifinals of the 11th FIH men's hockey World Cup with a hard-fought but unimpressive 4-2 win against Japan in their concluding pool A match on Wednesday.
Played in searing mid-afternoon heat, Spain struggled to find their rhythm and fluency and enjoyed a few close shaves before coming through on goals by Santiago Freixa (44th, 57th, 66th) and Pol Amat (22nd) with Kenichi Katayama (15th, 48th) replying for Japan.
The victory took Spain to 11 points, two more than Australia who had ensured their qualification on Tuesday. Japan finished at the bottom of the pool with three points from their lone win against Argentina.
Japan were distinctly unlucky to lose, for they had their chances and repeatedly troubled the Spanish defence with nippy moves, quite a few of which led to penalty corners. But the absence of a specialist drag-flicker weighed down Japan who could not convert any.
At the other end, Spain played well in patches and it was left to their hard-working forwards to do most of the work with Amat and Freixta teaming up for a deadly combination.
However, for much of the time, Spain seemed to be playing at half-pace and at times, the tempers ran on short fuse, especially when in the second-half the Japanese were first awarded a goal but referred to the video umpire after a strong protest from the Spanish bench with coach Maurits Hendricks running on the pitch.
Katayama's goal was subsequently upheld even as Hendricks was escorted off the pitch.
The tournament takes a day's break on Thursday with the classification matches to be played over the weekend.