The Canadian men’s national team won its final FIFA World Cup tuneup against Japan on Thursday without standouts Alphonso Davies and Stephen Eustaquio.
A Lucas Cavallini penalty kick in extra time that barely crossed the line provided Canada with an upset 2-1 win at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Canadian head coach John Herdman was hopeful both Eustaquio and Davies would be ready for Canada’s World Cup opener against Belgium in Qatar on Wednesday.
Davies missed the last two games for Bayern Munich after suffering a hamstring strain. Herdman reported Davies would travel from Munich to join the Canadian side on Friday.
Soccer skills of Alphonso Davies raises Canada’s World Cup hopes
“There’s only one Alphonso Davies, and we’re really keen to get him back,” Herdman said.
“(Davies) is on his way to join us, and we’ll assess him as soon as he arrives to see if we can get him at top speed. Progressively, we’ll see how that one goes.”
Eustaquio was kept out of the Canadian-Japan friendly after suffering a knock in training on Wednesday.
“(Eustaquio) is a key player, and we have to make sure his health is the main priority,” Herdman said.
The win against Japan pushed Canada’s record to 3-2-3 since its successful World Cup CONCACAF qualifying run concluded last March.
Canada qualifies for its 1st men’s World Cup in 36 years
Richie Layrea was brought down in the box by Miki Yamane in the 94th minute, setting up Cavallini for his penalty kick.
Japan goalie Shuichi Gonda got his arm on Cavallini’s floater down the middle, but the ball had just enough steam to bounce beyond the goal line.
“It was important for our confidence to get a result, and to win was the icing on the cake,” Herdman said.
“I needed to see that this group of men could bring that identity against a team like Japan, which technically is one of the best in the world. So for, this was a real team performance.”
Japan almost snatched the lead in the 89th minute when Yamane got in behind Canada’s back line and slammed a shot off the near right post.
Japan caught Herdman’s side off guard with an early goal. Yuki Soma positioned himself inside Canadian defender Kamal Miller to redirect Gaku Shibabaski’s pinpoint down-the-middle long ball into the box.
Soma stretched out to right foot the ball past Canadian ‘keeper Milan Borgan in the ninth minute.
Canada tied the match in the 21st minute off a corner kick. Junior Hoilett found Atiba Hutchinson, whose touch found the 35-year-old Steven Vitoria near the far post.
Hoilett was busy in the first half with six corner kicks.
Canada had possession for 55 per cent of the game.
Canada exhibited plenty of pressure in an intense first half with a 4-4-2 formation. However, the final 45 minutes were spotty from both sides.
Jonathan David had Canada’s best second-half opportunity in the 74th minute before the deciding goal, but his shot from just outside the box missed to the left by six feet.
Japan enters the World Cup ranked 24th, compared to Canada at 41. Canada was ranked 78th at the time of the 2018 World Cup.
Canadian defender Alistair Johnston played in a national team record 28th consecutive game to pass Bruce Wilson’s old mark. Wilson, a Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame member, captained Canada in its last World Cup appearance in 1986.
After the first game against the powerhouse Belgium side, Canada will finish the group stage with matches against Croatia on Nov. 27 and Morocco on Dec. 1.
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