Five Things To Know About Japan

The USMNT faces the Samurai Blue Friday at 8:26 a.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN+, UniMás and TUDN
By: Michael Lewis

In the first of its final two friendly matches before the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the U.S. Men's National Team meets Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany. on Friday, Sept. 23 at 8:26 a.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN+, UniMás, TUDN).

The USA is ranked 14th in the latest FIFA world ranking, Japan is No. 24. After facing Morocco and Uruguay in June, the USMNT’s match vs. Japan marks its third of four games against fellow World Cup participants before traveling to Qatar in November.


Japan did not qualify for its first FIFA World Cup until the 1998 tournament in France and has since become an Asian power, reaching seven consecutive World Cups.

The Samurai Blue finished 31st in France in but have improved over the years. Japan has reached the Round of 16 three times, first as co-host with Korea Republic in 2002, at South Africa 2010 and Russia 2018.

The team's most memorable results have come in the World Cup group stage, including a 1-0 win against Russia and a 2-0 victory vs. Tunisia in 2002, a 3-1 triumph against Denmark in 2010 and a 2-1 result vs. Colombia in 2018.

Since 1992, the Japanese have won the AFC Asian Cup four times, most recently taking runner-up to Qatar at the 2019 tournament.


The USA and Japan senior teams have only met twice, splitting the results.

In the first encounter on March 14, 1993, the Japanese recorded a 3-1 victory in the final match of the three-nation Kirin Cup in Tokyo. Chris Henderson teed up Hugo Perez for a 23rd-minute goal, marking Perez’s 11th tally in 49 international matches. Japan rallied to equalize with a goal from Kazuyoshi Miuri in the 36th minute and took the lead on a U.S. own goal by defender Mike Lapper in the 68th. The Samurai Blue netted an insurance goal in the 89th to top the USMNT, 3-1.

The U.S. evened the series with a 3-2 win on Feb. 10, 2006 in front of 37,952 spectators at SBC Park in San Francisco. After scoring a hat trick in a 5-0 triumph against Norway on Jan. 29, Taylor Twellman followed up that performance with a goal and two assists vs. Japan. Defender Eddie Pope scored for the second consecutive match, putting a Twellman header into the net in the 25th minute. Before the half, Twellman set up his New England Revolution teammate Clint Dempsey to extend the U.S. lead. Landon Donovan assisted on Twellman's goal off a diving header in the 50th minute to make it 3-0 before Maki scored in the 60th and Yuri Nakazawa pulled another one back two minutes into stoppage time.

The nations also clashed in an epic battle in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Summer Olympics (an Under-23 tournament in which squads are allowed three overage players) in Adelaide, Australia. After playing to a 2-2 draw, the USA prevailed in a shootout, 5-4. There was drama aplenty as Peter Vagenas converted a 90th-minute penalty kick to knot things up. Vagenas also netted the first penalty in the shootout as Jeff Agoos, Donovan, Josh Wolff and Sasha Victorine followed suit. The U.S. men reached the medal round for the first time in their history and finished fourth.


In Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, Japan (7-2-1, 22 points) booked a spot to Qatar by finishing second to Saudi Arabia (7-1-2, 23) in Group B in the third round. Substitute Kaoru Mitoma scored a pair of late goals (90th minute and five minutes into stoppage time) to propel Japan to a 2-0 win against Australia on March 24, helping secure the Samurai Blue’s spot in the World Cup. Junya Ito tallied four times in the third round of qualifying, tied with five other players for the scoring lead.

Japan went undefeated in July’s EAFF E-1 Football Championship (organized by the East Asiana Football Federation) with a 2-0-1 mark while outscoring its opponents, 9-0. It rolled over Hong Kong, 6-0, on July 19, as Yuki Soma, Shuto Machino and Takuma Nishimura each bagged a brace. After playing China to a scoreless draw five days later, the Japanese defeated South Korea, 3-0, on July 27, on the strength of second-half goals from Sho Sasaki Soma and Machino.


Hajime Moriyasu, 54, is a former Japanese international who took over the head coaching reins on July 26, 2018. He guided the squad to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Final, defeating Iran (a U.S. group stage foe at the 2022 World Cup) in the semifinals before dropping a 3-1 result to Qatar in the championship match. He has guided Japan to a 38-10-7 record overall in his tenure.

In his playing days, Moriyasu forged a 17-year career (1987-2003) in the midfield, mostly with Sanfrecce Hiroshima (34 goals in 271 appearances), but also spending time with Kyoto Purple Sanga and Vegalta Sendai in Japan. He played 35 times for the national team, scoring once.


Moriyasu selected 30 players for the September international window. Twenty-two players are based in Europe, the remaining eight in the domestic J-League. The team includes four goalkeepers, nine defenders, 13 midfielders and four forwards. The Samurai Blue also will meet Ecuador in Düsseldorf on July 27.

The roster features a combination of seasoned veterans and players in their prime. Defender Yugo Nagatomo (FC Tokyo) is the most capped player at 136 appearances, followed by fellow defender and team captain Maya Yoshida's (Schalke/GER) 119 appearances. Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg/FRA), the oldest player on the team (39), is third with 95 international matches.

Midfielder Takumi Minamino (Monaco/MCO) is Japan’s leading scorer with 17 goals in 42 games, while linemate Genki Haraguchi is next with 11 in 73 appearances. Fortuna Düsseldorf Ao Tanaka will represent his nation at his home club stadium.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter felt that Japan is a perfect opponent to prepare the USA for November’s World Cup.

"I think it would help us prepare for anyone," he said. "Japan is a high pressing team with very dynamic players, very technical players. It will be a very good challenge. They don't give many goalscoring opportunities. They play teams very tight. Everyone gets behind the ball when they lose the ball. So, I think that's going to be an interesting opponent."



Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg/FRA; 95/0); Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse; 32/0); Daniel Schmidt (Sint-Truidense/BEL; 9/0); Kosei Tani (Shonan Bellmare; 1/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Hiroki Ito (Stuttgart/GER; 3/0); Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo; 136/4); Yuta Nakayama (Huddersfield Town/ENG; 16/0); Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Red Diamonds; 70/1); Ayumu Seko (Grasshopper Club Zurich/SUI; 0/0); Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale; 12/0); Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal/ENG; 28/1); Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale; 13/2); Maya Yoshida (Schalke/GER; 119/12)

MIDFIELDERS (13): Ritsu Doan (Freiburg/GER; 26/3); Wataru Endo (Stuttgart/GER; 41/2); Genki Haraguchi (1.FC Union Berlin/GER; 73/11); Reo Hatate (Celtic/SCO; 1/0); Junya Ito (Reims/FRA; 36/9); Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; 19/5); Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad/ESP; 18/1); Takumi Minamino (Monaco/MCO; 42/17); Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton & Hove Albion/ENG; 7/4); Hidemasa Morita (Sporting CP/POR; 16/2); Gaku Shibasaki (Leganes/ESP; 58/3); Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus; 6/3); Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Dusseldorf/GER; 13/2)

FORWARDS (4): Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic/SCO; 15/3); Shuto Machino (Shonan Bellmare; 3/3); Daizen Maeda (Celtic/SCO; 7/1); Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge/BEL; 9/0)

Go Deeper