It was a game that Canada really did not have much hope of winning, so for most Canadian fans watching it was about seeing what certain players had to offer going forward. Tony Fonseca went with a mixture of talented veterans making their first apperances since the end of World Cup qualifying and some young attacking players in his starting lineup as he handed starts to Kyle Bekker, Marcus Haber, and Randy Edwini-Bonsu.
It was a Canadian team that should have been quite stable at the back with plenty of international experience between the back four of Nik Ledgerwood, Dejan Jakovic, David Edgar, and Marcel de Jong. Add in Julian deGuzman, Will Johnson, and Atiba Hutchinson just in front of them and Milan Borjan in goal and it was a strong defensive unit that could make up a good part of Canada's spine for several years to come.
The problem was that Japan brought a very strong side to this game as they were using the friendly as a warmup for their World Cup qualifier against Jordan on Tuesday. With a win over Jordan the Japanese could be the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The Japanese starting lineup included the likes of Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg, Atsuto Uchida of Schalke, Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart, and a host of other talented players. It is a similar team to the one that you would expect from Japan in any competitive match with only a couple of notable absences in Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow and Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan.
Canada did enjoy some possession early as Japan seemed willing to sit back and wait for them to make an error which Canada proved more than willing to provide in the first half. When Canada did make a mistake and turn the ball over it did not take Japan long to get things going and get on the attack.
It took them less then 10 minutes to open the scoring in this one as a simple through ball was enough to expose the Canadian defenders as Edgar and Jakovic were caught pressing too high up the field. The initial through ball was cleared by Borjan who did well to come out of his box and win it but he only got it away as far as the feet of Shinji Okazaki. Japan's top goalscoring threat did not need a second invitation as he evaded a tackle and then chipped the ball home over Borjan who was trying to scramble back into his goal.
Japan would come close on a number of other occasions in the first half including a Yasuhito Endō free kick which left Borjan rooted to the ground but in the end slammed off the post, bounced off the still stunned Borjan, and eventually found its way out for a corner.
With a bit better finishing the Japanese probably could have been up by three or four goals by the break but they had to settle for a one goal lead with Canada creating very little danger. Canada's best chance of the first half came from a long range shot by Will Johnson which was close enough to worry the Japanese keeper but just did not dip enough and ended up going over the bar.
Japan made three changes to start the second half bring on Mike Havenaar, Kengo Nakamura, and Yuichi Komano but it did little to slow them down. If Havenaar had shown any composure on the ball he could have doubled Japan's lead early in the second half as he found himself in behind the defense and with Borjan off his line all he could do was fire wide.
Tony Fonseca, Canada's interim head coach, finally made a change to try and improve his team's defender as Andre Hainault was brought on for Nik Ledgerwood. The move paid dividends for Canada as the team started to push forward against a Japanese team that seemed to have let their foot off the gas in the second half.
Canada found a way on to the score board by way of a set piece. The Canadian corner was taken by Will Johnson and it did a little bit of bouncing around in the box but it was Marcus Haber who got low to apply the needed header to the ball. It seemed to take a deflection on its way into the back of the net but Haber will surely claim it as his first goal for Canada.
After the goal Canada suddenly found themselves taking the initiative as a lovely weaving run from Edwini-Bonsu saw the pacey attacker beat a couple of Japanese defenders before taking a decent strike on goal. His effort was easily saved by Eiji Kawashima but his run was certainly a lovely bit of individual skill.
Canada's moment in the sun didn't last long though as Japan found their way back on to the gas pedal and started to create chances again. Japan again almost found a second goal when Sakai got forward from his defensive position and beat Borjan to the ball. The Canadian keeper did do just enough to force the attack out wide and the end shot was only able to find side netting.
Fonseca would make a second change taking off Kyle Bekker who had done some good work on both the left and right wings but will probably be unhappy with the number of times that his passes failed to find their mark. It was Stefan Cebara who came into the game for Bekker, making his debut for Canada's senior team.
Japan would finally get their second goal in the final 20 minutes of the match. It came after an extended spell of Japanese possession that saw them passing the ball with ease all around the Canadian penalty area. The ball eventually made its way into the danger area as Sakai's pass found Havenaar in plenty of space and though the tall forward scuffed his shot it ended up being perfectly placed just inside Borjan's post.
Canada did try to go after the equalizer in the closing stages of the game as Fonseca brought Tosaint Ricketts into the match for Edwini-Bonsu. The small attacker had a good match causing problems down the left side with his blistering pace but Ricketts brings a lot more experience to the table.
It was Atiba Hutchinson who created Canada's first good chance to level the score. He picked up the ball deep in Japanese territory and skipped past one challenge before taking a shot on goal with his left foot. He was in plenty of space and picked out a very good shot but Kawashima was up to the task of getting down to make a strong save.
Hutchinson did not take long to get involved in another chance as he found himself in a dangerous area coming in off the wing as his shot was well dealt with by Kawashima. After the initial save the ball did make its way to Ricketts but the keeper did enough to scramble back and make a second stop putting the ball out for a corner.
The corner came to Hainault who rose up to head the ball but his effort could not find the goal as Canada continued to press hard in the closing stages. Fonseca sending Issey Nakajima-Farran on for David Edgar in the final five minutes showed the attacking intent as Canada added another midfielder. They also brought off the holding midfielder DeGuzman in favor of Simeon Jackson as Canada piled on the attackers.
Canada did create some dangerous moments but that little bit of quality was not there in the final third as none of the half chances were turned into the goal Canada needed. With Canada pressing Japan did create a few chances of their own with Borjan having to do well to clear one away and then Jakovic having to sweep up Kagawa's chance late in the game.
The match would end 2-1 in favor of Japan but Canada can certainly take pride in their performance in the second half as they took the match to a very strong Japanese side for long periods of time. The first half was all Japan and they could have had a few more goals but credit to Canada for turning it around and settling it.
Canada will look to build on the narrow defeat when they take on Belarus next week in the second and final friendly of this Qatar camp.