Canada have traveled a long way for their third friendly of 2012. After staying relatively close to home for their two games in January in the US, interim head coach Tony Fonseca has assembled the squad in Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Continuing the trend of scheduling difficult opposition for their games, Canada will be coming up against Japan – Asia’s top-ranked team, at No. 26 in the latest FIFA rankings – on Friday (noon ET, streamed on Sportsnet.ca in Canada). Unlike Canada, who only have the Gold Cup to prepare for, Japan are on the threshold of qualifying for their fifth straight World Cup.
Friday will be just the second time that Canada has met Japan in senior men’s competition. The only other time these two teams met was back at the 2001 Confederations Cup in South Korea/Japan.
Canada had qualified by virtue of their 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup victory, and in the sole meeting between the two countries, Japan scored three times in the second half to beat Canada 3-0 in Niigata, Japan.
Shinji Ono opened the scoring in the 57th minute, Akinori Nishizawa found the net three minutes later and Hiroaki Morishima rounded out the result with just a few minutes remaining.
This game marks the return of many of Canada’s big names that were absent for their first two friendlies of the year back in January.
For many players like Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman, it’s the first time they’ll be pulling on a Canadian jersey since living the nightmare of the 8-1 loss to Honduras back in October that spelled the end of the Canucks' 2014 World Cup qualifying aspirations.
But now it’s all eyes on this summer's Gold Cup, and Japan look like a more-than-ample test for Fonseca and his team.
Comfortably in control of their group in the fourth round of AFC qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Japan will use this friendly as a tune-up for an important qualifier against Jordan just four days later.
A win over Jordan qualifies the Samurai Blue for Brazil 2014, so they’ll want to be on top form.
Players to Watch:
Canada – Milan Borjan
As the senior man in goal this month for the Canadians, this is the time for Borjan to show that he’s the man to take over as the regular starter.
Borjan served as the understudy to Lars Hirschfeld for most of the World Cup qualifying campaign and did briefly have the upper hand during the 2011 Gold Cup. But with Hirschfeld's advancing age, someone will need to step forward and show the consistency required to become his long-term successor.
Japan – Shinji Kagawa
Easily Japan’s most recognizable player, Kagawa will have the chance to show Canadian defenders what caught the eye of Manchester United.
If Japan head coach Alberto Zaccheroni decides to use Kagawa against Canada, it could be a very tough day for the likes of David Edgar and Andre Hainault. Blessed with an abundance of quickness and dribbling wizardry, Kagawa has the attributes to blaze past a Canadian backline that had tough times controlling the speedy players of Panama and Honduras last year.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liège/Belgium), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
DEFENDERS (8): Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata/Japan), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka/Japan), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04/Germany), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/England), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F. Marinos), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96/Germany), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/Germany), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Hajime Hosogai (Bayer Leverkusen/Germany), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo)
FORWARDS (7): Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart/Germany), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United/England), Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nürnberg/Germany), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem/Netherlands), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany), Yuki Otsu (VVV-Venlo/Netherlands)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Tomer Chencinski (Maccabi Tel Aviv/Israel)
DEFENDERS (6): Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Andre Hainault (Ross County/Scotland), David Edgar (Burnley/England), Adam Straith (Saarbrucken/Germany), Marcel de Jong (Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby/Sweden), Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Julian de Guzman (SSV Jahn Regensburg/Germany), Samuel Piette (Fortuna Dusseldorf/Germany), Pedro Pacheco (Santa Clara/Portugal), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Atiba Hutchinson (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Issey Nakajima-Farran (Alki/Cyprus)
FORWARDS (5): Tosaint Ricketts (Sandnes Ulf/Norway), Stefan Cebara (NK Celje/Slovenia), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Eintracht Braunschweig/Germany), Marcus Haber (Stevenage/England), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City/England)