MOSCOW - Japan’s decision to axe Vahid Halilhodzic two months before the World Cup finals came as a surprise to many, but former boss Philippe Troussier believes the appointment of Akira Nishino could give the Samurai Blue a much-needed boost.
Japan is making its sixth straight appearance at the finals, having debuted in France in 1998, and it begins its campaign in Group H against Colombia in Saransk on Tuesday.
The four-time Asian champions, who also face Senegal and Poland, have undergone a turbulent 10 months since qualifying, culminating in the firing of former Algeria coach Halilhodzic in April after a string of poor results.
While the move was out of character for the normally conservative Japan Football Association, Troussier backed the decision to appoint former technical director Nishino to lead the team in Russia.
“It’s an advantage,” Troussier said when asked about Nishino’s appointment. “Because, regarding the communication with Halilhodzic, he was only focused on the mechanics of the team, the noise of the engine.
“That’s maybe 60 percent of the job, but without soul, without communication, without unity, you cannot win. You need a Ferrari engine, but you also need the atmosphere around the team, where people love you. They get this now with Nishino, and that’s an advantage now, I think.”
Nishino has been in charge for just three games and will be working at his first World Cup, despite possessing significant experience serving in a number of roles in Japanese soccer.
In 1996, he helped the country qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time since 1968. Japan went on to defeat a Brazil side heavily favored to win the gold medal before exiting the competition at the group stage.
Nine years later, he won the J. League title with Gamba Osaka before leading the same club to the Asian Champions League crown in 2008. But he has spent the last three years out of the coaching spotlight.
Despite Nishino’s lack of recent frontline activity, Troussier was confident his connection with the Japanese players and fans would give the team a boost after the tumultuous reign of the fiery Halilhodzic.
“From outside we are surprised. But when you are inside the house, you know the problem is different, and this kind of decision has a very high consequence,” said the Frenchman, who steered Japan to the second round of the 2002 World Cup.
“I don’t want to judge if it’s good or not but in the end, the man they chose, Nishino, is there because they don’t have time to invite a foreign coach.
“Nishino was inside, he was technical director, he knows the national team policy and I think he’s the best choice to get a new communication with the players, especially the players who were supposed to be out.
“He has planned the group with the same cultural language, and it could be an advantage.”