Tokyo (AFP) – Crisis-hit Japan would struggle to avoid an early World Cup exit even under Jose Mourinho — that’s the stinging assessment of former coach Philippe Troussier.
The Blue Samurai controversially axed Vahid Halilhodzic in April and replaced him with former Japan Football Association (JFA) technical director Akira Nishino — a high-risk move that had a feel of Russian roulette about it.
But Troussier told AFP that a Japan side bereft of confidence had “no chance” of reaching the knockout stage in Russia, where they face Colombia, Senegal and Poland.
“Even if they play with Mourinho or Arsene Wenger, it would be so difficult for Japan to get to the last 16,” said the Frenchman, who steered the former Asian champions to the second round as co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup.
“If Poland was the first match it would be different. But the fact that Colombia is the first match and Senegal the second — for me, on paper at least they have no chance, no chance.”
Nishino has long coveted the Japan job but could quickly find it a poisoned chalice after 2-0 defeats by Ghana and Switzerland in his first two games in charge.
“I was so surprised about the decision (to sack Halilhodzic),” said Troussier.
“But for a long time the JFA were not happy and decided maybe it was better to take the decision before the World Cup and not wait for the first game to hit the wall.”
The 63-year-old flagged his intentions by turning to Japan’s old guard, in particular talismanic forward Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa — two of the players thought to have been at loggerheads with Halilhodzic.
– Baptism of fire –
But it has proved to be a baptism of fire for Nishino since Halilhodzic’s dismissal plunged Japan’s preparations into chaos before their sixth successive World Cup appearance.
Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki has also returned from injury but Japan offered little against Ghana and Switzerland, after which Honda warned of a “sense of crisis”.
Troussier warned that the JFA’s decision to switch coaches could backfire as Japan look to avoid crashing out at the first hurdle again.
“They face strong pressure because now they have to get to the last 16,” said the former Burkina Faso and South Africa coach. If they don’t, it will be a failure for the JFA.”
With lethal finishers Sadio Mane, James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski bearing down on their goal in Russia, Japan could face death by a thousand cuts, Troussier fears.
“Colombia and Senegal have three, four, five players who can make the difference at any time,” said the 63-year-old.
“This situation troubles me. It will be so difficult for Japan given the individual potential of Senegal and Colombia.”
However, Troussier said Japan could still spring a surprise at the World Cup.
“You need luck and some refereeing decisions to go your way,” he said.
“In 2002 South Korea reached the last four and in France a third division side (Les Herbiers) got to the final of the cup (this year). That’s the story of the cup and sometimes you can be very surprised.”