Last four teams battle for World ice hockey final berth

Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are preparing to do battle for a place in the ice hockey world championship final, guaranteeing the title for a European nation after the USA and Canada crashed out.

Reigning champions and event co-hosts Finland are attempting to defend their world title and win the tournament on home ice for the first time since the all-conquering "Red Machine" of the Soviet Union in 1986.

"The Lions", Olympic bronze medallists in 2010, take on neighbours Russia in the first semi-final at the 13,000-seat Hartwall arena in Helsinki at 1130 GMT on Saturday in a rematch of last year's semi-final which Finland won 3-0.

Finland won through to the last four with a last-gasp winner against Olympic silver medallists the United States on Thursday.

Russia, gunning for their first world title since back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009, had to battle through two tough periods against an obstinate Norway before running out 5-2 winners in Stockholm.

The team, eyeing a medal after finishing fourth in Slovakia last year, have strengthened their line-up with two Washington Capitals forwards, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Syomin, who proved their worth by both earning points in the match.

Saturday's other semi-final, which starts at 1530 GMT in Helsinki, is a mouth-watering tie between former compatriots the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who beat last year's beaten finalists Sweden and pre-tournament favourites Canada.

The match promises to be a hard-fought affair for bragging rights and the chance to add another prestigious title to their nations' trophy cabinets.

The Czech Republic have won six world titles since the two nations split in 1993, including a hat-trick of wins from 1999 to 2001, while Slovakia grabbed their first and only title in 2002 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Czech Republic and Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek, who scored the last-minute winner in the quarter-final on Thursday, admitted it will be a tough fight, despite the closeness between the two sides.

"We speak the same language and we have lots of friends on their team," he said. "But it's a semi-final, so it's going to be a great game. They saw off (Olympic champions) Canada and that's one of the best teams here... It'll be a tough game."

The world championship final is due to be played in Helsinki on Sunday at 1730 GMT, while the two semi-final losers will meet to determine the bronze medal position at 1530 GMT.

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