2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

2018 FIFA World Cup™ 

Nishino: Japan can reach the knockout phase

© Getty Images
  • ​Nishino was suddenly made Japan coach just months before Russia 2018
  • He outlines the Samurai Blue’s shortcomings
  • Nishino believes they can reach the Round of 16

Akira Nishino has discussed his sudden appointment as Japan coach and what they must do to reach the knockout phase at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

After disappointing friendly performances in late March – in a 1-1 draw with Mali and a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine – the JFA sacked Vahid Halilhodzic, despite there being little over two months before they kick off their Group H campaign against Colombia in Saransk. They surprisingly turned to Nishino, who hadn’t been in the dugout since Nagoya Grampus elected against renewing his contract following their 2015 season.

“I will give my all to put together a team for Russia,” said the man who masterminded Japan’s 1-0 upset of Brazil, who fielded Dida, Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Juninho Paulista, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Ronaldo, at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996. “I feel a strong responsibility. I have been away from the dugout for two years, and now I have to get my mind and body together as a manager.

“I don’t think we have fallen apart as a team at all. I don’t think we’ve been getting the results we should have and we haven’t reached our full potential yet.

“The players tried to give their best in the March games, but I think they can give more. We have to gel as a team. We have to put together combinations and function as a team.

“There are areas where Japanese football has been lacking and unable to progress on the world stage because of those shortcomings, and Halilhodzic wanted the players to be able to compete at that standard. He wanted them to be stronger in one-on-one duels. Make no mistake: that is something that Japanese football needs.

“You need to be able to attack directly from lots of different angles. But Japanese football does have its own style and that involves skill, discipline and organisation. I want to use that as a base to build on.”

Japan, who fell to 60th on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – their worst position in 18 years – are the outsiders in a pool also featuring Poland, Colombia and Senegal. Nishino nonetheless believes they can reach the Round of 16.

“I want to get results,” said Nishino, who led Gamba Osaka to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 semi-finals, where they performed admirably in a thrilling 5-3 loss to Manchester United. “It’s the World Cup, so I want us to show that we are good enough to get to the knockout phase.

“But first of all I want the players to perform in the way that they are capable of. I want to bring that out of them. We have the players with the spirit to do that.”

Japan didn’t appear at the World Cup until Hidetoshi Nakata inspired them to France 1998, but Russia 2018 will be their sixth successive participation.

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