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The Black Sticks trailed Japan 3-1 with about four minutes remaining and seemed destined to miss out on a place in the final of the Tri-Nations tournament in Cromwell.
But the home side rallied with Sam Harrison flicking in a cross from Madison Doar to cut the gap to one goal.
Then with time up on the clock, Olivia Merry slapped home a penalty stroke to send the game to a shoot out.
Black Sticks goalie Grace O’Hanlon did the rest. She proved impossible to score against and the Black Sticks won the shoot out 2-0.
But it was a far from convincing performance. The visitors had the better of the game for long periods but sport does not always respect endeavour.
The Japanese, fresh from a 1-0 win against Australia on Thursday, looked sharper and opened the scoring through Mai Toriyama early in the second quarter.
She got on the score sheet again in the third and Japan had built what seemed like an unassailable 3-1 lead.
But the Black Sticks found a way to win and now must find a way to beat Australia in the final tomorrow afternoon.
Australia beat the Black Sticks 4-1 and 3-0 during the round-robin and will start as favourites.