TOKYO: Japan have surprisingly sacked national team coach Vahid Halilhodzic just over two months before he was due to lead them into the World Cup finals in Russia writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

History thus repeated itself for Halilhodzic who was dismissed by Ivory Coast shortly before the 2010 finals in South Africa.

The 65-year-old had been appointed by the Japan Football Association in 2015 in succession to Mexican Javier Aguirre and steered them successfully to Russia. This will be their sixth successive appearance in the finals.

He has World Cup experience after a coaching career which took in Morocco, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast and Croatia before he guided Algeria past the first round of the World Cup for the first time in their history in 2014.

Previously he played 15 times in attack for the former Yugoslavia between 1976 and 1985 while starring for Velez Mostar and then Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain in France.

Akira Nishino, the JFA’s technical director, has taken over after what president Kozo Tashima described as “communication” problems and a loss of trust with the players.

Tashima added: “This has become an urgent situation. For the new coach, we had no choice but to promote from within the association as the World Cup is only two months away.

“We came to this decision because I thought this could increase the chances of the team winning — even if it’s just by a little.”

“We thought the coach should be someone who has watched this team the most from within the association.”

Japan reached the World Cup knockout stage in 2002 as cohosts under French coach Philippe Troussier and again in 2010 under Japanese coach Takeshi Okada.

Nishino is the former coach of Japanese club Gamba Osaka, and also coached Japan at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when they beat a Brazil side including Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo by 1-0.

Japan, who face Colombia, Senegal and Poland in the World Cup group stage, disappointed in two international friendlies last month in Europe, barely scraping a 1-1 draw with Mali and losing 2-1 to Ukraine.

They are not the only Asian confederation nation to change managers late in the campaign.

South Korea replaced Uli Stielike last year with Shin Tae-yong on the way to the finals while Ange Postecoglou the Australia job immediately after they qaualified for Russia and was replaced by Bert van Marwijk.