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Japan overwhelms Canadian men en route to 4-1 win in men's soccer friendly

NIIGATA, Japan — With a home World Cup looming in 2026, Canada knows it has to test itself against elite opposition from outside CONCACAF.
Keito Nakamura, left, of Japan, shoots past Kamal Miller of Canada during a friendly soccer match in Niigata, northern Japan, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kyodo News via AP

NIIGATA, Japan — With a home World Cup looming in 2026, Canada knows it has to test itself against elite opposition from outside CONCACAF. On Friday, the Canadian men were shown that such lessons can be painful

Ao Tanaka scored twice as Japan, showing its class, overwhelmed Canada 4-1 in a soccer friendly.

The Japanese, the top-ranked team in Asia at No. 19, were well-organized and led 3-0 at the break after pouncing on mistakes by No. 44 Canada. The Canadians had no answers for the Samurai Blue's speed and discipline.

"For us, obviously there's a lot of learnings from this game. There's things we need to improve," interim Canada coach Mauro Biello said.

"The score didn't reflect the performance," he added.

Not everyone would agree. It was a comprehensive Japan victory.

Keito Nakamura also scored before a lively crowd of some 32,000 at the Denka Big Swan Stadium. Japan, extending its win streak to five games, also benefited from an Alphonso Davies own goal.

Junior Hoilett scored a tap-in consolation goal in the 89th minute after Japan 'keeper Keisuke Osako could not corral a Jonathan David low cross. It was Hoilett's 16th goal in 60 Canada appearances.

Down 1-0, Canada had a chance to pull even in the 22nd minute only to see Osako stop David's penalty kick. David sent his shot down the middle of the goal and a diving Osako acrobatically got a foot to it.

Japan outshot Canada 19-6 (8-3 in shots on target)

The game was Canada's first under Biello, a former assistant coach who was put in charge after John Herdman left to take over Toronto FC.

Canada had a nightmarish start, conceding in the second minute. Japan pressed from the get-go and Canada, after a turnover by Davies, failed four times to clear its penalty box. The ball went to Tanaka and the Fortuna Duesseldorf midfielder's shot beat Milan Borjan.

Japan doubled the lead in the 39th minute after Canada's defence was carved open. While Takuma Asano's low, raking cross was just out of the reach of Takumi Minamino, the ball bounced off Davies' shin, hit Borjan and bounced into the goal. Davies was trying to shield the ball from a waiting Junya Ito.

Three minutes later, Alistair Johnston lost the ball in midfield and Canada was swiftly punished as Nakamura, one pass later, turned and beat Borjan with a fine shot to make it 3-0. 

Japan piled on the pain in the 49th minute with Tanaka, freed by a clever ball over the defence from Ito, hammering a shot past Borjan.

Friday's game was the Canadian men's lone warm-up for a pair of crucial November CONCACAF Nations League matches that serve as Copa America qualifiers.

Canada sat out the FIFA September international window, with Canada Soccer pointing to "financial constraints'' and its "inability to confirm an additional high-quality opponent.''

Noting the team's recent inactivity, Biello cited a "lack of cohesion." Canada last played July 9, losing a penalty shootout to the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal.

"It's not one (training) session and a half that's going to bring back cohesion," he said. 

Japan, coming off September wins over No. 15 Germany (4-2) and No. 42 Turkey (4-1), plays No. 29 Tunisia in Kobe on Tuesday as it gears up for the start of its 2026 World Cup qualification campaign in November and the Asian Cup in January.

Biello said the Japanese are stacked with talent, "almost players three deep at every position."

"That's why they're beating a lot of teams," he added. "But this is what we wanted. For the players to feel that type of competition is important. Now they'll learn from it. They'll understand how spaces close super-quick at this level. And we'll be better for it. And we'll grow from here and be a better team going into Nations League." 

Canada was without injured midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and winger Tajon Buchanan.

Borjan, earning his 78th cap, captained Canada behind a back three of Johnston, Derek Cornelius and Kamal Miller.

Davies and Richie Laryea were deployed as wingbacks with Samuel Piette, Jonathan Osorio and Ismael Kone in the midfield. David and Cyle Larin started up front.

Canada appealed for a penalty in the 19th minute when Davies, charging after the ball, went down in the penalty box. There was contact with Osako, who plays for Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and Davies made the most of it.

Japan outshot Canada 11-4 (4-1 in shots on target) in the first half. Veteran Steven Vitoria came on for Cornelius at the break.

Canada was repeatedly second best, evidenced in the 56th minute when Johnston, beaten by his man, was booked for dragging down Nakamura, who subsequently exited with an injury.

The Canadians rallied and managed some time in possession but could not breach the Japan defence until the game was well out of hand.

Hoilett, Harry Paton and Mathieu Choiniere came on in a triple change in the 61st minute with Paton and Choiniere making their senior debut. Liam Millar and Charles Andreas-Brym came on late in the contest.

Canada has history in Niigata, losing 3-0 to Japan at the same venue at the 2001 Confederations Cup. Paul Stalteri, one of Biello's assistant coaches, was part of that Canadian squad.

The Canadian men came into the game with a 1-2-0 all-time against Japan, winning 2-1 the last time they met — in a World Cup warm-up game last November.

Canada now turns its attention to the CONCACAF Nations League.

"We've got to learn from these situations and grow and get ready for November, better," said Biello.

The Canadian men, along with the 11th-ranked U.S., No. 12 Mexico and No. 46 Costa Rica, have been drawn directly into the two-legged Nations League quarterfinals. The winners there qualify for the 2024 Copa America as well as the Nations League finals in March.

The quarterfinal losers will meet in a pair of play-In matches to determine the final two CONCACAF teams at Copa America.

Canada's record dropped to 4-3-2 this year with the two previous defeats both at the hands of the Americans.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2023

The Canadian Press