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Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

Japan replace Halilhodzic with Akira Nishino as new manager

2018 World Cup profile

Japan's new head coach Akira Nishino
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The Racing Post's latest football book - 2018 World Cup guide - was printed before Japan replaced manager Vahid Halilhodzic with Akira Nishino. Here is a new chapter on Japan.

Profile
Lightning can strike twice.

Vahid Halilhodzic, who qualified Ivory Coast for the 2010 World Cup only to be sacked before the finals, has seen the same happen again, this time with Japan.

Halilhodzic dropped key players and was accused of playing boring football and the final straw came in the March friendlies as Japan drew with Mali and lost to Ukraine. His replacement, Akira Nishino, has not been given long to turn around their fortunes.

How they qualified
The Samurai Blue topped Group B in final qualifying without overly impressing and there was a suggestion at one stage that Halilhodzic was on the verge of the sack before a 2-0 home win over Australia booked their spot in Russia, Japan's sixth straight World Cup appearance.

The manager
Nishino led Japan at the 1996 Olympics when he was in charge for the Miracle of Miami, a 1-0 win over star-studded Brazil, but it was not enough for them to get out of the group.

His Gamba Osaka side lost 5-3 to Manchester United in the 2008 World Club Cup semi-finals and Nishino was Japan's technical director before being promoted to replace Halilhodzic.

The squad
Nishino was seen as a defensive coach during his time with the Olympic side, but he wrote a 2012 manifesto on "the thrills of attacking football" and is promising to deliver that style in Russia.

"If possible I want to fight offensively and the players want to fight with the same spirit," he said in his first press conference after being announced as the new boss. That would be a change from the counter-attacking football preached by Halilhodzic.

The Bosnian had decided there was no room in his squad for playmaker Shinji Kagawa and forward Shinji Okazaki, although that could change, as may the 4-3-3 formation preferred by Halilhodzic.

It is expected that Kagawa and Okazaki have most to benefit from the hotseat swap and could yet become crucial to the side. Eibar's Takashi Inui is another who will be pleased to see an end of the Halilhodzic regime and a potential move away from functional players over those with superior technical ability.

Midfield mainstays captain Makoto Hasebe and Hotaru Yamaguchi should still be in the side and there was more logic to Halilhodzic's defensive pics anyway with vastly experienced Yuto Nagatomo and Maya Yoshida influential. 

Key man
Yoshida said Halilhodzic "is a bit of a weirdo" and the Southampton stopper will be influential seeing as the centre-back will probably be paired with either FC Tokyo's Masato Morishige or Kashima Antlers' Gen Shoji. Neither player has represented a club outside of Japan.

Rising star
The tiny Soya Nakajima is having a fine season for Portimonense in Portugal on loan from FC Tokyo and scored on his debut against Mali in March.

Wildcard
On paper Kagawa and Okazaki should walk into the squad. Kagawa, a nice passer in midfield for Borussia Dortmund and Okazaki, a Premier League title winner with Leicester, will surely return to the starting 11 under Nishino.

Keisuke Honda has lost his way since being considered as the golden boy of Japanese football but the former CSKA Moscow and Milan man is still capable of set-piece magic with current Mexican club Pachuca.

Prospects
It could be an early bath for Japan but the managerial change at least helps them to potentially field their better players.

How to back them
Discounting 2002 when they had home advantage, Japan have played 13 matches at the World Cup finals and won just twice, both in 2010. They are outsiders in all three group-stage encounters and should finish bottom of Group H.

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It is expected that Kagawa and Okazaki have most to benefit from the hotseat change
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