New Zealand will get a second bite at arch rivals Australia in the final of the Four Nations women's hockey tournament in Darwin tomorrow night.
Having had the better of the Australians, for much of their round robin game on Wednesday night, and creating a flood of scoring chances only to go down 2-1, the world No 4 Black Sticks confirmed their place in the final with a 2-1 win over 10th-ranked Japan tonight.
Japan had to win the match to have a chance of making the final. The first quarter was tight, but New Zealand went ahead three minutes before halftime.
Young midfielder Kelsey Smith was well rewarded for her persistence.
Having made a neat run down the backline, Smith pushed the ball into the centre and when it bounced back towards her, Smith reacted smartly to flick the ball off the reverse side into the Japanese goal.
The lead was doubled four minutes into the third quarter. Striker Charlotte Harrison, running into the Japanese defensive circle, made a desperate dive to cross the ball where the ball bounced to Petrea Webster and she turned the ball into the open goal.
Webster could have got a second goal, but pushed her shot weakly wide from a great position.
Japan got a late goal, from a clever set piece move at a penalty corner, and there were echoes of the final of the Hawkes Bay Cup in April when Japan reduced a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the final couple of minutes.
It was a game of fewer chances than New Zealand's first two matches against India and Australia.
New Zealand's defensive pair of Brooke Neal and Emily Gaddum were impressive while Liz Thompson and Sam Charlton were energetic through the middle of the park.