TOKYO (AP) — Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic two months before soccer’s World Cup in Russia and replaced him immediately on Monday with Akira Nishino, the technical director of the Japanese Football Association.
To explain the abrupt firing, Japanese Football Association president Kozo Tashima cited “communication” problems and said the Bosnian coach had lost the trust of his players.
Japan will be playing in its sixth consecutive World Cup and has only twice reached the knockout round — losing both times at that stage.
It reached the knockout stage in 2002 under French coach Philippe Troussier, and again in 2010 under Japanese coach Takeshi Okada.
Until Monday’s announcement, it had recently gone with non-Japanese coaches including Brazil’s Zico, Italian Alberto Zaccheroni and Halilhodzic as the latest.
The end for the Bosnian came in two international friendlies last month against non-World Cup teams. It salvaged a 1-1 draw on the last kick of the game in a friendly against Mali, and days later lost 2-1 to Ukraine.
Japan will face Colombia, Senegal and Poland in group play in the World Cup.
Halilhodzic was hired in March 2015 after leading Algeria to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Japan, South Korea and Australia — traditionally, Asia’s most powerful teams — struggled in World Cup qualifying before advancing.
South Korea fired coach Uli Stielike last year and replaced him with Shin Tae-yong. Ange Postecoglou quit almost immediately after Australia secured qualification for Russia and has been replaced by Bert van Marwijk.
Asia’s dominant teams have tended to struggle at the World Cup when the top teams from Europe and Latin America are peaking.
South Korea’s run to the semifinals in 2002, when it was co-hosting the tournament with Japan, remains the best run by an Asian team at the World Cup.
Halilhodzic guided Algeria to the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup, where they lost to Germany in extra time. And the JFA had been hoping Halilhodzic could create a similar breakthrough for Japan.
But recent pressure appears to have weighed down the team.
None of Asia’s four representatives won a match at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, all failing to advance beyond the group stage. Japan, South Korea and Iran each had one draw and two losses and Australia lost all three matches in a group containing Netherlands, Chile and Spain.
Tokyo SNTV video journalist Koji Ueda and Tokyo video journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.