April 9 – Vahid Halilhodzic has been axed as coach of Japan following a string of disappointing results, leaving Japan’s World Cup preparations in turmoil. With two months left until the World Cup, Akira Nishino (pictured) will take over from the Bosnian coach.
This isn’t the first time Halilhodzic has been fired just before a World Cup. In 2010, Ivory Coast dismissed Halilhodzic with months left until the kick-off of the World Cup in South Africa. This time the JFA parted ways with the Bosnian after a crisis meeting decided Halilhodzic’s time with Japan was up.
Halilhodzic led Japan to a sixth consecutive World Cup qualification, having been hired in March 2015. In the last World Cup Halilhodzic led Algeria to the second round where they pushed the eventual champions all the way to extra-time.
The Japanese qualified for the finals for the first time in 1998 and have been present at the World Cup ever since. Japan stuttered during the AFC qualifiers this time round, but reached Russia in the end. They have never progressed beyond the round of sixteen at the finals.
The 65-year old was under pressure after a 1-1 draw against Mali and a 2-1 defeat against Ukraine in March. Halilhodzic is also believed to have lost the support of his dressing room.
Nishino was at the helm for one of Japanese football’s greatest moments: a 1-0 Olympic win over a Brazil side containing Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, a game that became known as the ‘Miracle of Miami.’
The Japanese will need another miracle in Russia, opening their World Cup campaign against Colombia. The JFA opted for Nishino because he was a former technical director of the Federation and possesses intimate knowledge of the national team and its set up. He also managed J-League outfit Gamba Osaka for 10 years from 2002, winning the league title in 2005.
At the last World Cup in Brazil, Japan exited the tournament in the first round coming bottom of group C after losing to Colombia and Ivory Coast and drawing in a stalemate with Greece.
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