Canada head into the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with a good victory against a tough opponent in their back pocket. 

The Canadian Men’s National Team defeated Japan 2-1 at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Thursday morning.

Yuki Soma gave Japan an early lead, directing a long-ball past Milan Borjan after just nine minutes, but John Herdman’s side responded well, ratcheting up the pressure with a series of corner kicks.

On the third such set-piece Atiba Hutchinson was able to knock Junior Hoilett’s delivery towards goal where Steven Vitória was on hand to sweep in the equalizer in the 21st minute ensuring the teams were level into half-time.

Both sides would make a flurry of substitutions come the second half, including all three Toronto FC representatives – Jonathan Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Richie Laryea – coming on for Canada at the same time on the hour mark.

In the 93rd minute, with the final whistle fast approaching, that trio would combine with Jonathan David to craft a chance at victory.

Laryea was played into his office near the left corner flag by David, nearly losing possession, but recovering to cycle back to Osorio high on the flank. He pushed the ball forward to David, who drew attention and waited patiently for Japan to drop. That opened up a pocket for Kaye to step and when he received David’s pass he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it, driving a ball into the feet of Laryea who had slipped off the shoulder of a distracted defender. Facing forward, Laryea did what he has done so many times for TFC, driving towards goal and inviting a rash challenge, which brought him down and prompted the referee to point to the spot.

Lucas Cavallini cheekily chipped the Japanese keeper to give Canada a win in their final match before the tournament begins.

“It's a positive start,” said Herdman post-match to Canada Soccer. “It was important for confidence to get a result and to get a win was the icing on the cake.”

“All I was interested in was the performance. I needed to see that this group of men could bring that identity to a team like Japan, who are one of the best twenty in the world,” he continued. “This was a real team performance.”

“We're missing some key players and it's been ‘next man up;’ different players were able to show their quality tonight,” Herdman added. “And I'm just so happy for Cavallini. It took a lot of courage to have that moment right at the end. And then to do the panenka: it shows this is new Canada, it’s got that swagger.”

With the European-based members of the squad filtering in, it was an excellent warm-up for what awaits.

“We’re really happy,” said Vitória. “We got what we wanted out of this game.”

“We knew we were going to be tested versus a clever side, a great team in Japan, but we were focused on what we wanted to get out of tonight, that last test before the World Cup,” he continued. “We closed a few gaps that we wanted to close and we're just getting started, but happy with what we got out of the game today.”

Until the September international window, where they played friendlies against Qatar and Uruguay, winning and losing 2-0, respectively, Canada had not faced non-Concacaf opponents since a friendly against Iceland in January 2020. How they would respond against unfamiliar opposition was a question.

Herdman issued a challenge to the side.

“The mentality going into this game was they had to score tonight,” he explained. “I wasn't worried about what was happening at the other end, but I told them I was disappointed in the Uruguay game when they never delivered on the goals.”

“I said, ‘My kids in the front room never got to celebrate, your parents didn’t,’” Herdman relayed. “We just brought the joy of the goals, but also we showed that defensive quality. We might have got out of jail on a couple of moments – when they hit the post; we’re going to ride our luck and they did at times as well.”

To go out and get two made it all the sweeter.

“When the fatigue hit, I remember our staff pushing, saying that we weren't content with the tie,” saw Vitória. “And I think we deserved it for what the team produced.”

“The panenka,” he grinned. “I don’t know about that, but it worked.”

But equally as important was that heads didn’t drop when Japan struck early.

“Not just that moment,” highlighted Vitória. “We knew that we were going to get tested tonight, but we've proven that the game doesn't finish if something like that happens.”

“It shows a lot about our character, our brotherhood. We got tested, we turned things around,” he added. “We don't want to go down in any game, but we rebounded well.”

Canada was missing a pair of key starters with Alphonso Davies, still in transit, and Stephen Eustáquio both carrying minor knocks.

Herdman said both absences were “precautionary.”

Pre-tournament action over, Canada now braces for their first World Cup action since 1986. They will face Belgium in their Group F opener on Wednesday, November 23.

“We're in a happy place. It's all about growing. It was a friendly, but what a way to finish preparations,” said Vitória. “The World Cup, what a stage. It's what we've always dreamt of.”

“Now we're going to embrace the moment and the best way to embrace it is to push our individual bests, new limits,” he continued. “We’re happy. Enjoy a little bit of tonight, we’re going back to Doha and preparing the next game, which is the one we're all waiting for.”

Closed Herdman: “We just keep our feet on the ground.”

“One game at a time – that's been our philosophy the twenty games that got us here,” he continued. “Tonight was all about scoring, was all about a mentality to show that this wasn't a friendly match, this was about setting the tone going into a World Cup game.”

“I'm really proud of the effort, but when we face Belgium it's a different level, it's a different occasion,” he added. “Our players can rise to that; they're going to have to.”