CanMNT vs. Japan: 3 things to watch for in Canada’s final pre-World Cup friendly
One final match remains on the Canadian men’s national team’s schedule before they open the 2022 World Cup next Wednesday, Nov. 23, as they take on Japan in an international friendly on Thursday, Nov. 17 (8:40 a.m. EST, available on OneSoccer).
🔴Watch Live▶️ https://play2tv.live/friendly/
🔴Watch Live▶️ https://play2tv.live/friendly/
Japan, currently ranked 24th in the world, has qualified for the past seven FIFA World Cups, reaching the knockout stages three times, and will give Canada a strong test before the tournament. The match will also give Canada another chance to get acclimatized to playing in the region as they step onto the pitch of Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, UAE.
Here are three things to watch for as Canada tests itself against the Samurai Blue on Thursday.
Japan gives Canadian defence one final test against quality attacking side
The Canadian men’s national team has conceded more than one goal in a match just three times in their last 19 competitive games. Unfortunately, all three have come in their last four matches.
Last week’s 2-2 draw with Bahrain saw yet another inconsistent defensive effort, one where Canada made uncharacteristic mistakes and looked vulnerable on the counter-attack. They allowed four shots on target despite controlling the bulk of possession and gave up a 65th-minute penalty kick.
Some of this, perhaps, was down to an uneven playing surface that provided multiple bumps and bobbles, as well as having to make adjustments on the fly after centre-back Doneil Henry went down with injury during warmup.
But after also allowing a pair of goals against both Uruguay and Honduras earlier this year, it isn’t going to get any easier from here. Japan will provide yet another strong test for Canada’s backline, boasting dangerous offensive weapons like Takumi Minamino of Monaco (formerly of Liverpool), Junya Ito of Reims, Takefusa Kubo — who plays his club football for Real Sociedad –and Daichi Kamada of Eintracht Frankfurt.
Japan recently dominated the United States in a September friendly, not allowing a single shot on target and managing eight themselves during a 2-0 victory. This year has also seen them pick up lopsided victories over Paraguay (4-1) and World Cup-bound sides Ghana (4-1) and South Korea (3-0).
This is a side that will punish the Canadian backline for any mistakes they should make, which will be a good standard to test themselves against ahead of the World Cup group stage.
While, in classic John Herdman fashion, the coach would not tip his hand as to which World Cup group stage opponent he sees this match as good preparation for, though he mentioned that there are some similarities to at least one of those aforementioned sides.
“I think there are some similarities with styles of play with at least one of our opponents that we will play,” said Herdman in a press conference last month. “To a key group stage opponent.”
Canada last played Japan on March 22, 2013, in a 2-1 loss with their lone goal coming from former Cavalry FC and Pacific FC forward Marcus Haber. It was the only goal that Canada would score in 12 matches during that 2013 calendar year.
Coming into the 2022 World Cup, Stephen Eustáquio is playing the best football of his career. The 25-year-old midfielder has four goals and an assist in his last six matches in all competitions for Porto, including a pair of goals scored in the UEFA Champions League against Atlético Madrid and Club Brugge.
Especially against Belgium and Croatia sides whose greatest strength comes in their midfield, Eustáquio is perhaps going to be Canada’s most important player in Qatar. Japan boasts an incredibly solid midfield of their own.
The two likely defensive midfielders, Hidemasa Morita — with whom Eustáquio will be familiar as he plays his club football at Sporting Lisbon — and Wataru Endo who plays for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. In front of them sits danger man Daichi Kamada, who has 12 goals in all competitions for Frankfurt this year including three in Champions League action.
Eustáquio and the Canada midfield will have the dueling challenges of trying to break down Morita and Endo — not to mention the experienced Japanese backline behind them — while also containing Kamada.
If Eustáquio can carry his incredible form with Porto into this match, and beyond, it could go a long way toward Canada catching a few teams by surprise in Qatar.
Big chance for domestic players to shake off rust against a quality opponent
The word “rusty” was perhaps the first one that came to mind when watching Canada against Bahrain last week. The usual intensity and quality that defined this team during their road to Qatar were missing, as they needed a late own goal to even get a draw out of the match.
With that being said, the match did offer a key opportunity for a few important Canadian players to gain match fitness. Going into the Bahrain match, MLS players and regular Canada starters Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio had all been out of action for over two weeks if not significantly longer.
Japan, however, will push that group even further, depending upon which of those players, and potential others, see the field. The tempo and quality will take a significant step upward, giving this group an all-important taste of what is to come next week.
With all the pre-World Cup injuries and match fitness concerns, the fact that Canada has multiple players in their lineup who will come into the tournament reasonably rested could be an advantage. It will only be one, however, if they can use a match like this to get back up to match speed and shake any lingering rust out of their respective games.
Final test: Canada can prove World Cup credentials in Japan friendly
As teams arrive in Qatar, the Canadian men’s national team have landed in Dubai to face Japan on Thursday (8:40 am ET | OneSoccer) in what’s essentially an unofficial fourth World Cup match.
In terms of the caliber of opponent and the situations they’ll need to deal with, this last-chance friendly couldn’t be more ideal for Canada before their Group B opener Nov. 23 against Belgium.
Japan are a perennial World Cup participant out of Asia, and as the US men’s national team learned in their 2-0 loss to the Samurai Blue in September, they’re as organized off the ball as they are in possession.
In the last international window, a 2-0 loss to Uruguay generated some brilliant lessons for Canada in this regard. La Celeste capitalized on a few Canadian lapses and punished them twice. Head coach Hajime Moriyasu’s team will almost surely pose a similar challenge.
“We know their pressing intensity is one of the best in the world and they can do that for 90 minutes,” said Canada coach John Herdman in his pre-match media call on Wednesday. “They're one of the most organized and cohesive teams I've ever seen, and the players were sort of marveling at some of the tactical footage from Japan today as they started to look at their attacking qualities.
“When you look at Belgium and Croatia, their movement is at the highest level and I think Japan is up there,” Herdman continued. “They may lack that little bit of quality that maybe Belgium has in the attacking force, but it's certainly made up with their attacking coordination.”
Being alert on both sides of the ball is paramount to Canada’s potential success during their first World Cup trip in 36 years, so this is the perfect matchup in that regard.
To successfully adapt to Japan’s intensity, Herdman will likely rely on captain Atiba Hutchinson in the heart of midfield. His absence was felt in September against Uruguay, with defender Steven Vitória struggling to build from the back calmly under pressure.
However, Hutchinson only has 70 minutes in his legs this Beşiktaş season after starting a Turkish Cup match against third-tier side Serik Belediyespor on Nov. 9.
Thankfully for Canada, Hutchinson has slowly adapted in the last two days of training as he prepares for his first high-intensity match since the June window. The 39-year-old, who’s three caps shy of the 100-mark, will be one of the World Cup’s oldest participants.
“You can see he's feeling that but willing to embrace it,” said Herdman. “He's super excited coming in. I think like many of us, he’s just pinching himself that he made it here to this World Cup. He spoke really eloquently last night to the leadership group about his dream coming true and for all of us taking this moment, enjoying the moment and seizing it as well for each other in Canada.”
Davies, Eustáquio concerns
While Hutchinson should see minutes, Alphonso Davies won’t be present. The Vancouver Whitecaps homegrown star remains at Bayern Munich recovering from a hamstring strain. The Canadian coaching staff is still waiting on his final assessment before Davies is released by the club, but all parties expect him to be 100 percent fit for the Belgium match and the subsequent Group F matches against Croatia (Nov. 27) and Morocco (Dec. 1).
But in another cruel twist of fate, key midfielder Stephen Eustáquio is being monitored ahead of Thursday’s match after he suffered a minor knock in training on Wednesday. Herdman said that his staff will determine if he can be risked or not.
It would be disappointing to lose Eustáquio right as Hutchinson returns. The 25-year-old had four goals and one assist from midfield in Porto’s last five matches before the break, playing a vital role in helping the Portuguese giants progress to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage.
Eustáquio and Hutchinson were the go-to starters in the midfield for Herdman when both players were available, but surely the former won’t be risked if there’s any chance of him aggravating the injury.sdfdsfssdfd
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