Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic promised on Thursday to turn the Blue Samurai into a team who feared no one, but admitted there was plenty of work still to be done.
“Like all teams, this Japan side has its faults and its qualities,” the Franco-Bosnian told reporters at the French ambassador’s residence in Tokyo. “We have to correct some weaknesses but we have strengths that we can build on too.
“The team is bursting with talent and enthusiasm,” added Halilhodzic, who oversaw a 2-0 win against Tunisia and a 5-1 thrashing of Uzbekistan last month in his first two games in charge.
“The players are extremely disciplined, they like to work and are very respectful — this provides us with a solid base to work on. I’m very optimistic about achieving our objective of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.”
Halilhodzic replaced Javier Aguirre, after the Mexican was sacked over allegations of match-fixing dating back to his time as a manager in Spain, following Japan’s Asian Cup flop in January.
Aguirre himself was brought in after Japan exited meekly from last year’s World Cup under Italian Alberto Zaccheroni.
“Japanese football is going through a somewhat delicate time after the disappointment of the Asian Cup,” said Halilhodzic. “But we will make a few changes in our methods and with hard work, success will come.”
Japan was drawn alongside Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia in Group E of the second qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup earlier this week.
Halilhodzic told local media he hoped to put Japanese football on the map, building on appearances in the last 16 of the World Cup in 2002 and 2010.
– ‘Different planet’ –
“I want to make history,” said the 62-year-old, who led Algeria to the knockout stages of the World Cup in Brazil. “They call Japan the Blue Samurai. Samurai should have no fear. The team I’m building will fear nothing.”
Players such as talisman Keisuke Honda and, in particular, playmaker Shinji Kagawa, whose confidence was in tatters after the Asian Cup, have rediscovered their form since Halilhodzic took over.
“The mental element is definitely improving,” Halilhodzic told Japan’s Nikkan Sports. “Accepting defeat is unacceptable for me, it’s not part of my philosophy. I feel physically sick when I lose and can’t even speak.”
However, Halilhodzic refused to make wild predictions, despite Japan’s vibrant performances against Tunisia and Uzbekistan.
“It’s a harsh reality but in world football, Japan are still a third-division team,” he said. “Ranked 50 in the FIFA rankings that’s where they are.
“We are not trying to emulate Barcelona,” he added. “Everyone goes on about Barcelona, but there’s only one (Lionel) Messi. Our players come from a different planet. Honda and Kagawa are different to Messi.
“I’m not asking for them to play like Barcelona. I need them to play like Honda and Kagawa.”
Asked about his hopes for Russia, Halilhodzic said: “Look, I’m not going to say Japan will win the World Cup. The job is to qualify — and then not just to go there as tourists but to achieve something.” – Agence France-Presse