Japan replaces head coach Halilhodzic 2 months ahead of World Cup

Japan football team

After guiding Japan to a first place finish in their AFC qualifying group a year ago, Halilhodzic's position as manager came under scrutiny when his side's form dropped over the March internationals.

"We came to this decision because I thought this could increase the chances of the team winning - even if it's just by a little", Tashima said.

Local media reported several Japanese coaching veterans were in the running to replace Halilhodzic, including Akira Nishino, 63, the current technical director of the Japan Football Association.

"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.

Tashima said the reason for the sacking was that "communication and trust with players have become weakened".

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.

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The Nikkan Sports daily said Monday that "the association made the decision as it has a growing sense of crisis over the team's performance which has shown no sign of improvement with fewer than 70 days until the World Cup".

He once reportedly banned his players from smiling, and he found himself in trouble with authorities on two separate occasions after traffic accidents in 2015 and 2017.

Japan will play Colombia in its opening group stage match in June. And the JFA had been hoping Halilhodzic could create a similar breakthrough for Japan.

Japanese global and Southampton centre back Maya Yoshida has admitted his chock at the choice to replace the team's manager, but will focus on doing as well at the World Cup as possible as the countdown continues. However, setbacks in recent global friendlies - a 1-1 draw with Mali and 2-1 loss against Ukraine in Belgium in March, with neither opponent bound for Russian Federation - appear to have doomed the head coach.

The Japanese qualified for the finals for the first time in 1998 and have been present at the World Cup ever since.

South Korea's run to the semifinals in 2002 as co-host remains the best run by an Asian team at the World Cup.

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