KUMI KINOHARA / AIPS* in TOKYO: Vahid Halilhodzic has hit back at his dismissal as Japan’s national coach less than two months from the World Cup finals in Russia.

Halilhodzic told a press conference attended by 332 media representatives at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo that he “had no problem with anyone on the team” and that the Japan Football Association had shown “no respect” for him.

The 65-year-old Bosnia-Herzegovinian was sacked by the JFA on April 7. Two days later JFA president Kozo Tashima told reporters the reasoning that “the communication and trust relationship with the players had been weakened.”

Vahid Halilhodzic . . . history repeating itself

Halilhodzic responded: “I had no problem with anyone on the team, especially with the players . . . I always made contact with our players both the overseas-based ones and the Japan-based ones over the last three years.”

He then read out one of the thank-you letters he had received from 15 of his players as evidence of their good relationship.

Halilhodzic said: “I never had imagined that I would leave Japan this way. This is the worst nightmare I can think of. When I met the president Tashima at a hotel in Paris and was told that that was it, I thought that was a joke.

No warning

“When I asked the president the reasons, he said that was ‘the lack of communications.’ I then asked him, ‘with which players?’ and the president replied ‘Overall.’

“What shocked me is that president Tashima and technical director [Akira] Nishino didn’t come and warn me: ‘Look, Vahid, there’s a problem.’ No-one came to me.”

Nishino was appointed subsequently to manage Japan in Russia in June where they have been drawn in the group stage with Colombia, Poland and Senegal.

Halilhodzic took over in March 2015 from Mexican Javier Aguirre who had been dismissed after allegations – which he denied – concerning match-fixing in the Spanish league.

Under Halilhodzic Japan achieved World Cup finals qualification for sixth straight time, topping their group after overcoming a shaky start.

Since then, however, the Samurai Blue struggled to produce good results – recording two wins, two draws and three defeats even though they had their Europe-based players. Japan also achieved two wins and one defeat at the EAFF E-1 Championship in December, using only home-based players.

However, some voices of complaint and opposing opinions concerning Halilhodzic’s tactics had been raised by some players even during the World Cup qualifiers. Those grew louder after a two-match friendly tour to Belgium in March, where Japan drew 1-1 with Mali and lost 2-1 to Ukraine.

Team discontent

The sacked Japan coach said at the Friday’s press conference he had noticed discontent among of some of his players at some moments.

One was immediately after they had secured World Cup qualification with a win over Australia at the end of August as “two players who had often played for the team but didn’t play in that match looked disappointed.”

The other occasion was after the Mali match when Nishino told him that one player was “not in a good condition,” but Halilhodzic said merely: “I can take care of that later.”

He told the press conference: “It would have been more understandable if the JFA said the results were the reasons [for the dismissal]. We lost to South Korea [in December].

“I know the Japan-South Korea tie is so special and could mean more than the World Cup but I was focusing on how we could produce more and better from our players, especially from midfielders and forwards. I was not happy with the results but we learned things from them.”

Added value

Halilhodzic believed that his World Cup experience brought added value to his work with Japan.

He said: “I had made all preparations done for the World Cup and was looking forward to the final four weeks for the tournament, feeling excited about a big challenge. I knew what we would be able to deliver at the World Cup.

“I am good at coaching a team at the final phases. I did well with Algeria at the 2014 finals in Brazil. That’s my strength, and I was not given the opportunity to do that with Japan.”

In 2014 Halilhodzic’s Algeria reached the second round where they lost only 2-1 to eventual champions Germany.

He added: “I had come here to guide Japan to qualify for the World Cup for sixth straight time. I have done my work with pride and responsibility over the last three years but I felt that they [JFA] lack respect towards me and my coaches. Ever since April 7, this is the worst moment I’ve ever had in my life and I am deeply disappointed.”

Ivory Coast setback

Halilhodzic, who had a successful career as striker with Yugoslavia and PSG, had a similar experience to this before, with Ivory Coast. After having guided Ivory Coast to the 2010 World Cup finals, he was fired four months before the tournament.

With Japan, it may have been unfortunate for Halilhodzic that one year after his arrival administrative changes saw the departure of the technical director after the change of the JFA presidency. He lost the person who knew him well.

At the end of his press conference, which lasted 90 minutes, 30 minutes longer than scheduled, Halilhodzic said: “Making this decision at this time of the stage can be quite risky. The Japan national team is facing a difficult time for the World Cup but I hope they can have good preparation and play well in the World Cup.

“I am a big supporter of Japan forever.”

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com

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