Friday’s international friendlies: Japan vs Uruguay, Korea Republic vs Colombia, Australia vs Ecuador, Saudi Arabia vs Venezuela & Uzbekistan vs Bolivia.
Japan vs Uruguay
After reaching the round of 16 at the World Cup, the future looks bright for the Japanese national team.
In Qatar, the Samurai Blue had the most bizarre of World Cup campaigns, beating Germany, losing to Costa Rica and then beating Spain.
This saw Hajime Moriyasu’s side top their group, setting up a last 16 clash with Croatia, which they lost on penalties, despite taking the lead through Daizen Maeda.
So now, Japan are fully focussed on January’s Asia Cup, amongst the favourites to win that competition for the fifth time, having reached the final last time round.
Uruguay meanwhile are at the beginning of a transition period.
Marcelo Broli is in interim charge while veterans Fernando Muslera, Diego Godín, Martín Cáceres, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani all have not been called up for this trip to the Far East.
La Celeste endured their earliest World Cup exit for two decades in Qatar, bowing out in the group stages, below Korea Republic on goals scored.
With CONMEBOL qualifying getting up and running again in September, Uruguay will partake in friendlies until then.
With home advantage at the Tokyo National Stadium, Japan will fancy their chances of a win here.
Korea Republic vs Colombia
After a credible run at the World Cup in Qatar, will Korea Republic kick off 2023 with a win?
Back in November, the Taegeuk Warriors managed to reach the World Cup knockout stages, thanks to a goalless draw with Uruguay and then a 2-1 win over Portugal.
Once there, they were smashed 4-1 by Brazil, but this was still seen as a successful campaign.
Since, Jürgen Klinsmann has taken over as manager, with his full focus on the next edition of the Asia Cup, kicking off in January.
For now, South Korea will prepare in friendly matches, with this clash in Ulsan likely to be competitive.
As for Colombia, having missed out on World Cup qualification, they’re desperate to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Néstor Lorenzo took over as Head Coach last year and, so far, has won all three friendlies, beating Guatemala, Mexico and then Paraguay.
Los Cafeteros will face Japan on Tuesday, with this trip to the Far East going to be an informative test of the progress they’ve made.
Will the Korea Republic supporters inside Ulsan Munsu Stadium be celebrating a win?
Australia vs Ecuador
After an unexpected run at the World Cup, there is a buzz about Australian football again.
Last year, against the odds, the Socceroos reached the World Cup knockout stages for just the second time.
Graham Arnold’s team beat both Tunisia and Denmark, before a narrow 2-1 reverse against eventual winners Argentina in the round of 16.
So now, 2023 is all about preparing for the next edition of the Asia Cup, which kicks off on 12 January.
This month, Australia will play two friendlies against Ecuador, and the South American side will provide stern opposition.
La Tri were also at the World Cup in November, beating Qatar before earning a credible draw with Netherlands, only for a 2-1 defeat to Senegal to send them home.
Since then, Félix Sánchez Bas, the former Qatar boss, has taken over as manager, looking towards the start of the next qualification cycle in September.
A big crowd is expected for this one at Western Sydney Stadium for a fixture that’s tough to call.
Saudi Arabia vs Venezuela
After causing a bit of a storm at the World Cup in November, what will 2023 bring for Saudi Arabia?
Last year, as usual, the Green Falcons crashed out in the World Cup group stages, but did famously come from behind to beat Argentina in their opener.
The goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari against the eventual champions will go down in World Cup history.
So, what next for this Saudi Arabian side?
Well, next January they’ll be back in Qatar, seeking to win a first Asian Cup title for 28 years, and they have to be amongst the favourites to go all the way.
However, their hopes of achieving that could suffer a real blow with manager Hervé Renard reportedly set to take over the French women’s national team.
For now, Renard remains in charge, with Saudi Arabia confident of a victory in this friendly in Jeddah.
Visitors Venezuela are the only CONMEBOL member to have never qualified for a World Cup, a fact they’d very much like to change in 2026.
However, given that la Vinotinto finished rock bottom of the most-recent qualifying table, winning just three games, this seems unlikely.
This will be Fernando Batista’s first match as Head Coach, but the home crowd at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium are likely to be celebrating a win.
Uzbekistan vs Bolivia
Can Bolivia end their miserable run of form?
La Verde come into this following six successive defeats, most-recently beaten in friendlies by Senegal and Peru.
Before that, Bolivia had ended CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying second bottom of the table, having won just 26 of 112 qualifiers since their sole appearance, coming at USA ‘94.
Even with potentially seven of South America’s ten teams going to the next edition, Bolivia look long-shots to qualify.
Uzbekistan will be hoping to make their debut in 2026, now that Asia has eight or nine spots.
In the more immediate future, Srečko Katanec’s side will feature as next January’s Asia Cup, with Uzbekistan having reached the knockout phase at the last five editions.
Will there be a winner in this friendly at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Saudi Arabia?