Japan sack their manager ahead of the 2018 World Cup

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 09 April 2018, 13:57

With just two months until the World Cup kicks off in Russia, one of the 32 managers preparing for the finals has been sacked from his post.

Japan have dismissed boss Vahid Halilhodzic after three years in the role and will now made a swift appointment to take them into football’s biggest tournament by replacing him with Akira Nishino.

Nirshoni will be a familar name to some having been in charge of Gamba Osaka from 2002-2011, during that time playing Manchester United in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals where they lost 5-3.

Vahid Halilhodzic

The Franco-Bosnian was one of the managerial successes of the 2014 World Cup as he guided surprise-package Algeria beyond the group stages with a series of impressive performances. Halilhodzic received praised for his strategic counter-attacking tactics, in-game management skills and apparent motivation of his players.

The North African side had wanted him to stay beyond his contract but he left to return to club football soon after, joining Turkish side Trabzonspor. However, after just 14 matches he was dismissed from the role, before being appointed Japan manager in March 2015, despite being linked with taking over Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Halilhodzic’s reign with the Blue Samurai was not without controversy. He signalled a fundamental shift in the long-standing tactics of the side, which had been built on short passing and movement, playing out from the back. Instead, he favoured a more direct style of play with more emphasis on set-pieces, utilising the width of the pitch and launching swift counter-attacks – a trait which had proven successful with Algeria.

It was not the only big call he made in his spell in charge, dropping national team stars Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki from the squad, and earning a great deal of criticism when starting Hotaru Yamaguchi of Cerezo Osaka – who were at the time playing in Japan’s second tier.

Despite an inconsistent campaign, the former Paris Saint-Germain boss guided Japan to World Cup qualification with 20 points from 10 group matches and topping the group ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. However, further criticism was to follow with poor performances and results in the eight matches played since qualification was secured.

“To those who attacked me I say: bad luck for you because I'm going to carry on doing my job,” Halilhodzic is cited as saying by News Channel Asia in September.

Japan failed to beat minnows Haiti in a friendly back in October before back-to-back defeats to Brazil and Belgium. Halilhodzic was once more criticised for his side’s showing in the East Asian Cup, when he appeared to show a lack of awareness for the significance of the competition and the nation’s rivalry with South Korea.

A squad of largely second-string players was selected for the tournament with a comprehensive 4-1 defeat to the Taegeuk Warriors confirming elimination. Comments made by the manager in the wake of the defeat, as quoted by the Japan Times, brought him in for more heavy criticism: “I was amazed by South Korea's explosiveness of power, technique and control of the game. South Korea dominated us in every way.”

By this stage, only a strong World Cup showing would see his contract extended beyond the summer but two more below-par friendly results – a draw with Mali and defeat to Ukraine – saw Halilhodzic dismissed. It is a similar situation for the tactician as eight years ago, when he was sacked as Ivory Coast boss four months ahead of the tournament getting underway.

New boss Nishino will have three friendlies in late May to prepare his side for the tournament before they start a challenging group which includes Colombia, Senegal and Poland.


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