Javier Aguirre’s reign as Japan coach was a short-livid and unsuccessful one, and last week I interviewed JFA president Kuniya Daini about the Samurai’s Blue’s second fresh start in six months, as Vahid Halilhodzic takes the reins…
Vahid Halilhodzic’s reign as Japan coach gets under way tonight in Oita against Tunisia, and Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini is expecting big things of his new recruit.
The Bosnian has been drafted in to replace Javier Aguirre, whose contract was terminated in February after a Spanish court accepted a match-fixing case in which he was named as a defendant, and Daini — as well as JFA technical director Masahiro Shimoda and secretary general Hiromi Hara — took voluntary pay cuts to atone for their roles in hiring the Mexican just last August.
Daini is delighted with the new man in charge.
“He has been able to put teams in order in many different places — France, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria — and I believe the ability to be able to deal with different nationalities and cultures makes an outstanding coach,” the 70-year-old told The Japan News in his Tokyo office last week.
“He has abilities in many areas. He doesn’t force things, but by working on one issue at a time he is able to play winning soccer.
That, for Daini, was the missing ingredient for the Samurai Blue at January’s Asian Cup, where the team was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
“Japanese soccer has a high technical level and we play good soccer with pretty passing. But when it comes to battling to win, having a fixation on that, I felt a little that, not just in the game as a whole but in individual situations, that was lacking a little.”
Halilhodzic’s Algeria side could hardly be accused of lacking fighting spirit at last year’s World Cup, and eventual winner Germany needed extra time to defeat it in the round of 16.
“It wouldn’t have been at all strange if Algeria had won,” Daini said. ”You saw his ability in the strength of the Algerian team and the organization of individual players. He’s really pragmatic and, looking at the current Japanese players and their organization and ability, he will think about the best way to play in order to win.”
Daini — a former national team player — is impressed that so many of his countrymen are increasingly enjoying success in Europe’s top leagues, but said he would like to see more players establishing themselves in the decisive positions.
“The parts of the pitch in which Japanese players are given chances seems set,” he said. “In midfield, showing good technique, devotion, to never give up, to run for defense and attack, to contribute to the team — that enables the good points of Japanese players to be demonstrated and that is recognized around the world.
“But, if you really think about how we have to become stronger, it is in the sense of being the guy at the front scoring the goals, or being in the center of defense dealing with everything.
“Now Japanese players are getting better in that respect, but we have to develop more players who are scoring the goals and hanging on at the back. However we can, we have to produce those players in order to win against the world’s best.”
Halilhodzic appears keen to leave no stone unturned to unearth the best players at his disposal, and named a bumper 31-man squad for his first two games in charge — plus an additional 12 players as backups.
“That was down to him,” Daini explained. “Until now, unfortunately, he hadn’t seen many Japanese players, and so in the limited time he had available, he wanted to call up as many as possible and cast his eye over them in training.”
Tonight’s game and Tuesday’s clash with Uzbekistan in Tokyo will shed some light on which of those managed to make good first impressions on the new coach, before the real business begins with the second round of World Cup qualifiers in June.