One game separates Canada from its first World Cup in 36 years. On Thursday morning, we will see Les Rouges take the pitch against Japan at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, UAE in its final match before the World Cup officially kicks off on Sunday.
Kick-off is scheduled for 8:40 AM EST and can be watched on OneSoccer.
Following Sunday’s squad announcement and domestic leagues now paused, the Canadian squad is back training together. While the CONCACAF qualification helped instil an identity into his squad, John Herdman and his coaching staff will have about a week to work on system changes and be ready for Belgium.
A matchup against Japan will be a key part of that preparation as it will be the final time the Canadians will play a full match before next week’s opener. A win will of course do wonders for the confidence of the squad, however adapting to the intensity that the Japan squad will bring and being able to execute on Herdman’s vision will be equally, if not more important, to help build momentum heading into next week.
Last week’s draw in Bahrain, while not an ideal result, was the first time many of the squad players who play for MLS clubs would have played in a competitive fixture. Now, with the European contingent back in the mix as well, we will likely see a starting lineup that will be close to what Herdman envisions as his starting line up ahead of next week’s tournament.
While priority will be given to the players that Herdman will likely rely on the most during the tournament, as long as those players are healthy, expect Canada to give as many players as possible a chance to play on Thursday. With a few injuries already present in the squad and the intense nature of the tournament, Herdman will want to ensure that his reserves are also ready should they be called upon.
The biggest absentee will be Alphonso Davies. The Bayern Munich star, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in a Bundesliga match, is not currently with the squad as he continues rehabbing his injury with the German club. Given his importance to this Canadian team, it’s not surprising that Herdman and his staff will not rush him back for a friendly. The Canadian winger is expected to join the rest of the squad after the Japan friendly.
Midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who has had an outstanding month, which has included crucial goals for FC Porto and that has included a Player of the Month award, will be a game-time decision. It seems Eustaquio will likely play in a limited role, if at all, against Japan as Herdman won’t want to risk another injury to a key player.
Japan will be hoping to end their pre-World Cup camp on a positive note as well. Japan have featured in every World Cup since 1998 and have progressed to the Round of 16 on three separate occasions. Ending on a positive note for the Samurai Blue will be important as they get set to start their group play in Group E. Japan have been dealt with a tough group which includes two recent World Cup winners in Germany and Spain along with Costa Rica.
The Samurai Blue, who have been in good form heading into this World Cup, will be a handful for Les Rouges and will provide a good test for the Canadians.
Though they might not be the highest scoring squad and possess the attacking threat of some of Canada’s other opponents, Japan have extremely capable midfielders that can cause the Canadians trouble. In addition to that, Japan has proven that they can be an unbreakable defensive unit.
In their last six matches, Japan has not conceded a goal, which has included a draw against Ecuador, and wins over the USA and Korea, while they have put 11 goals past their opponents, including a 6-0 drubbing of Hong Kong back in June.
Japan’s cohesion on both sides of the ball will be a good test for a Canadian team that will have rarely seen this level of talent in CONCACAF play, and that they will surely see up close once the group stage gets underway.
Giving this group a chance to once again familiarize themselves with each other, and getting their fitness levels up to par by playing as many minutes as possible should be the most important aspect to Thursday’s friendly. The familiarity with patterns of play and tactics will allow this squad to put their best foot forward when they begin group stage play next week and perhaps make history once again.