USMNT to Face Japan, Saudi Arabia in Final Pre-WC Tuneups

USMNT to Face Japan, Saudi Arabia in Final Pre-WC Tuneups thumbnail

As expected, the U.S. men’s national team will play a pair of Qatar-bound Asian confederation sides in late September as part of its final preparations for the 2022 World Cup.

The Sept. 23 match against Japan and Sept. 27 bout against Saudi Arabia will represent the last games the U.S. plays before group action begins less than two months later. The U.S. will play Wales, England and Iran in Group B in Qatar.

Iran is no stranger to Japan and Saudi Arabia, although both U.S. friendly opponents took part in the opposite group to Iran’s in Asia’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to measure ourselves against fellow World Cup participants,” said USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who actually earned his first cap as a player against Saudi Arabia in 1994. “Together with the two games in June against Morocco and Uruguay, we will have experienced a great diversity of styles and quality opponents to help us prepare for what lies ahead at the World Cup in November.” 

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In terms of potential opponents for the final window, non-Concacaf options are extremely limited. UEFA’s Nations League removes all World Cup-bound European nations from consideration, so even though the U.S. has two European teams in its group, it won’t be able to prepare against such opponents. It will be going to Europe for that camp though. The Japan match will take place at a yet-to-be-finalized location, but reports have pegged a German city for the game, while U.S.-Saudi Arabia will take place in Murcia, Spain.

Japan and Saudi Arabia likely have similar reasons for booking these dates, given that they’re both grouped with Concacaf opposition at the World Cup. Japan is in a quartet with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica, while Saudi Arabia will play Argentina, South Korea and Mexico. Not all sides from the same confederation play the same way, of course, but World Cup-bound teams who are familiar foes of the opposition you are preparing to play remains a useful exercise in the run-up to the competition.

According to the most recent FIFA ranking, Japan is the 23rd-ranked team in the world, while Saudi Arabia is 49th. Both will enter after a set of uneven results in the June window. Saudi Arabia was edged by Colombia and Venezuela in a pair of 1–0 friendly defeats, while Japan went 2-0-2 in June, beating Paraguay and Ghana by matching 4–1 scorelines while losing to Brazil (1–0) and Tunisia (3–0).

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