22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
18 Yudai Baba (JPN)
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VOTE: With Watanabe, Baba heading preliminary roster, will Japan get their revenge on Iran?

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - The upcoming face-off between Japan and Iran on August 25 might not seem like an intense one at first sight. However, taking another look at their recent history playing against each other, there might be a case for a fun rivalry between the two teams.

Back and forth in Asia Cup

In Iran’s rise to the top of Asia with their Asia Cup 2007 title win, the tournament was held in Japan. To make matters worse, the hosts ended up at 8th place in that Asia Cup - their worst finish ever at the time.

Since 2007, Iran have played against Japan 4 times in the Asia Cup and claimed victory in each of the four clashes as well. Most recently, Iran defeated Japan in the Group Phase of Asia Cup 2022 to clinch a direct ticket to the Quarter-Finals, leaving Japan to battle their way through the Philippines before falling to the eventual champions Australia in the Quarter-Finals.

Japan left Jakarta in a positive vibe, in general, considering the fight they put up against Australia, but no one would blame them for having a slight “What If” in the backs of their heads.

What if Japan had been able to beat Iran?
Would avoiding Australia given them a better chance to make it to the Semi-Finals?
Would they have fared better against Jordan than Iran?

Obviously, there’s no way to answer those questions, but Japan gets the next best thing as they are scheduled to face Iran in just over a month’s time from that loss in Window 4 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers.

Akatsuki advantage

While Iran have dominated Japan in the Asia Cup, it’s been Akatsuki Japan who has held the upperhand over Team Melli in the World Cup Qualifiers. The two teams advanced through the First Round to face each other in the Second Round back in the 2019 Qualifiers and it’s Déjà vu here in the 2023 Qualifiers.

In the 2019 World Cup Qualifiers, Japan were able to beat Iran both home and away as a part of their heroic 8-game winning streak that clinched them a spot at the World Cup.

The circumstances are a bit different as Japan are already qualified for World Cup 2023 as co-hosts of the competition, compared to back in 2019 when they were on the outside looking in to make it to China.

On the flip side, Iran are in a bit of a shakier situation here in the 2023 Qualifiers than they were in 2019 as they’ve already suffered two losses heading into this next phase. Iran are still in the race to qualify for the World Cup, but they are currently out of that picture right now at the moment, sitting at 4th place of Group F behind Australia, Kazakhstan, and China.

The build up

Iran and Japan are also leaning in to this “rivalry” heading into their next official clash. Over the past weekend, Japan hosted Iran to back-to-back friendly games, the “SoftBank Cup 2022”.

Japan won both home games by taking the Saturday game, 82-77, and following that up with an impressive Sunday victory, 80-58.


Yudai Baba made an impact in his first Akatsuki Japan appearance since the Tokyo Olympics and first time playing for coach Tom Hovasse. Across both games, Baba averaged 20.0 points per game with sprinkles of rebounds, steals, and assists. The athletic wing who has been spending the past seasons in the NBA G League and the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia.

Baba is expected to be a part of the upcoming games in Window 4 as well, as he was named to the 19-player preliminary roster by the Japan Basketball Association on Monday.

Japan's 19-player preliminary roster in preparation for Window 4
Nyika Williams Ryuichi Kishimoto Makoto Hiejima Aki Chambers
Yuya Nagayoshi Yutaroh Suda Yuki Togashi Yudai Baba
Koh Flippin Ryo Terashima Avi Koki Schafer Hirotaka Yoshii
Koya Kawamata Yudai Nishida Soichiro Inoue Yuki Kawamura
Nick Fazekas Tenketsu Harimoto Yuta Watanabe  


Aside from Baba, Yuta Watanabe is also now listed in the preliminary roster after being absent from the training camp roster previously announced. He joins Tenketsu Harimoto, Yutaroh Suda, Yuki Togashi, Hirotaka Yoshii, Yudai Nishida, Soichiro Inoue, and Yuki Kawamura as players returning from the Asia Cup 2022 team.

In the release, JBA also announced the Nick Fazekas and Nyika Williams would not be available for the game against Iran as well as head coach Tom Hovasse. Assistant coach Norio Sassa will assume the head coach position for that game.

What do you think?

In just the span of the past month, Japan and Iran have played against each other 3 times already. Japan hold the lead in this period with 2 wins, though Iran claimed the bigger victory.

With another big game between the two teams coming up in less than 10 days, who do you think will come away with the win?