We are less than two months away from the start of the World Cup, as Japan and the USA square off at Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf on Friday.
It will only be the third time that these nations meet in an international encounter, with the Yanks winning the previous friendly 3-2 in 2006, while the Samurai Blue took home the first fixture 3-1 at the 1993 Kirin Cup.
The upcoming international window is the last opportunity for Hajime Moriyasu to evaluate his team and who would be the best 26 players to bring to Qatar.
Four years ago, Moriyasu was an assistant for Japan when they qualified for the last 16 in Russia, though making it beyond the opening phase this time around could be much more challenging, seeing as they are in a group which features a pair of European powerhouses in Germany and Spain, two nations ranked 11th and sixth respectively according to FIFA.
Their road to the knockout stage in Qatar may be a difficult one, however, this side fared well in Asian qualifying against some formidable teams, finishing second in a group which featured Saudi Arabia and Australia, two countries that along with Japan are World Cup bound.
At the moment, Japan are the top-ranked team in Asia (24th), capturing the East Asian Cup thanks to a 3-0 victory over South Korea in July, their first trophy in a major competition since winning the Asian Cup in 2011.
They have suffered only one defeat in their previous six matches in all competitions, while their defence is among the stingiest in Asia, conceding just six total goals in the second and third rounds of 2022 qualifying.
Excluding the World Cup hosts, Qatar, who did not participate in the third round of qualifying, those six goals allowed were the second-fewest among the Asian countries that made it to the finals, with South Korea conceding just four.
After squandering a 2-0 lead to Belgium in a 3-2 defeat at the 2018 World Cup knockout stage, the Samurai Blue have been much tougher to break down when leading, without a defeat in any competitive fixture in which they have tallied first since their exit from the previous finals, outscoring their last three opponents by a combined score of 9-0.
Gregg Berhalter has a lot of tough decisions to make between now and November 21 when his Americans kickoff their World Cup campaign versus Wales.
Their qualifying campaign may not have been the most impressive, with the Americans finishing third in the Octagon, behind Mexico and Canada, but the individual quality on this side carried them through.
That quality is a luxury that many of Berhalter’s predecessors did not have, as many Americans currently feature in the top leagues in Europe.
Despite the number of questions surrounding this team since the ex-Columbus Crew boss took over after a failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, the 49-year-old ex-defender has managed to keep this team winning on a reasonably consistent basis.
In his four-plus years at the helm, the US were able to capture the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup titles in the summer of 2021 and most importantly, they are back in the World Cup for the first time since 2014.
Coming into this friendly, the Yanks have only suffered one defeat in their last eight matches in all competitions, with five shutouts over that stretch.
In the new millennium, the US have only played seven international matches against teams that compete in Asia, with the Americans winning six of those games, while their lone blemish over that time was a 2-1 loss versus South Korea in 2001.
While the Yanks have not lost a game on American soil since falling 3-0 to Mexico in 2019, they have had their struggles outside of their home country, going winless in six straight away matches in all competitions, failing to tally in four of those fixtures.
Judging from the players selected for these international friendlies, it seems like Moriyasu is emphasizing the importance of continuity as Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate, who are all teammates at Celtic, were selected, Hiroki Ito and Wataru Endo feature in Germany at Stuttgart, while Shogo Taniguchi and Miki Yamane are members of the reigning J1 League champions Kawasaki Frontale.
Ao Tanaka will feel right at home inside Merkur Spiel-Arena, where he plays his club football for Fortuna Dusseldorf, while goals from Shuto Machino, Yuki Soma and Sho Sasaki helped them to a 3-0 triumph over South Korea at the East Asian Cup, though for this window Sasaki was not chosen.
Kosei Tani earned his first international cap in that victory as he only had to make one save to collect a clean sheet, while Strasbourg goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima needs five more appearances to reach 100 for the national team.
Takumi Minamino scored his first goal last weekend since joining Monaco from Liverpool over the summer, as they defeated Reims 3-0 in Ligue 1, while his fellow countryman Junya Ito is second in scoring for Reims with two tallies.
The Americans have had to make some last-minute changes to their squad as Yunus Musah, Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers all recently picked up fresh injuries with Berhalter adding Johnny Cardoso, Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown to the team.
Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic led them in qualifying with five goals, and Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna was named to the team after missing out on their international fixtures in June.
Josh Sargent returns to the Yanks with the Norwich City striker tallying the second most goals in the Championship so far this season (six).
Ricardo Pepi, who scored three goals in qualifying, was a surprise selection after failing to find the back of the net at Augsberg before moving on loan to Groningen, goalkeeper Matt Turner made his first appearance at Arsenal this month, stopping three shots in a 2-1 win over FC Zurich in the Europa League, as he could be competing with Sean Johnson for playing time, with the New York City FC keeper tied for the MLS lead in clean sheets (14).
Zack Steffen, who is currently on loan at Middlesbrough from Manchester City, is nursing a knee injury and will not be available.
Japan possible starting lineup:
Kawashima; Nagatomo, Yoshida, Taniguchi, Yamane; Endo; Minamino, Morita, Tanaka, Ito; Furuhashi
USA possible starting lineup:
Turner; Vines, Long, Zimmerman, Cannon; Aaronson, Adams, McKennie; Pulisic, Pepi, Arriola
Even though the Americans are ranked 10 places higher than Japan according to FIFA, we do not believe on paper that the US are that much better, especially seeing as they have played primarily against teams from CONCACAF over the past few years.
There is quality and creativity on both sides, and they each have plenty of experience with top European clubs, but we expect defensively that each team will be able to keep the scoring chances to a minimum.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.