Soccer

Former Samurai Blue boss Takeshi Okada supports choice of Akira Nishino as new manager

Kyodo

New men’s national team manager Akira Nishino, appointed following the shock dismissal of predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic, received the backing Tuesday of the only other Japanese manager to lead the national team at the World Cup.

With just two months until the 2018 tournament kicks off in Russia, the Japan Football Association on Monday dropped the bombshell that it had fired Halilhodzic after the national team’s poor performances in its most recent warmup matches, a 1-1 draw with Mali and a 2-1 loss to Ukraine late last month.

Takeshi Okada, Japan head coach at the 1998 World Cup in France and in 2010 in South Africa, said JFA technical director Nishino, who coached J. League side Gamba Osaka to multiple titles, including the 2008 Asian Champions League, was the “best choice” to take the reins.

“In the sense that he knows the national team well, he is the best choice,” Okada said. “Because he’s been around the team continuously, I think he has a clear picture of what needs to be done.”

The JFA cited poor communication between Halilhodzic and his players as one of the reasons for firing the 65-year-old from Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Okada said exchanging ideas won’t be a problem for Nishino.

“On top of getting great results in the J. League, he was even better when it came to communicating with the players,” Okada said.

Okada, whose second stint as Japan boss came unexpectedly after then head coach Ivica Osim suffered a stroke in November 2007, knows better than most the challenge facing Nishino in Russia.

With his unheralded squad not expected to make an impact, Okada won plaudits for leading the young group to the round of 16 in South Africa with a dynamic brand of passing soccer.

Nishino has just weeks to bring together a squad in generational transition and whose preparation has been hampered by injuries to key players and the shock of Halilhodzic’s dismissal.

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