World Cup Qualifier Japan players 'too respectful', says boss

The straight-talking Franco-Bosnian said the Blue Samurai needed to cultivate a winning mentality.

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Japan lost a World Cup 2018 qualifying match against the UAE in September after a controversial disallowed goal play

Japan lost a World Cup 2018 qualifying match against the UAE in September after a controversial disallowed goal

(AFP/File)
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Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said his players were too respectful and urged them to be "more vicious" after a stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign which has plunged his future into doubt.

The straight-talking Franco-Bosnian said the Blue Samurai, who are facing a fight to reach a sixth straight World Cup in Russia in 2018, needed to cultivate a winning mentality.

"Sometimes I'd really like them to be more aggressive, more street-smart, more vicious," the former Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain striker told AFP in an interview in Tokyo.

"I'd really like them to have ambition like Vahid," he added, referring to himself in the third person.

"Even as a player, I didn't like to lose," Halilhodzic said. "We have to create a winning culture -- the group must hate losing."

Halilhodzic suffered calls to quit as the four-time Asian champions were stunned at home by UAE in September. They now lie third in their group, out of the automatic qualifying spots, with a tough run of games to come.

But the former Algeria and Ivory Coast boss said he wasn't afraid of being sacked, insisting that job insecurity was part and parcel of being a football manager.

"No, that comes with the job. I'm not worried at all. I could be sacked and out of here tomorrow, but I'm doing everything I can," he said.

Japan's straight-talking coach Vahid Halilhodzic (L) says his players are too respectful and should hate losing play

Japan's straight-talking coach Vahid Halilhodzic (L) says his players are too respectful and should hate losing

(AFP/File)

Halilhodzic is no shrinking violet, and he recovered from being wounded in 1992 during the Bosnian war in the early stages of what has become a globe-trotting coaching career.

But he admitted his "direct" style didn't always go down well in a country of "ninjas, robots, sumos" which is also known for its high standards of politeness.

No 'dictator'

After the UAE defeat, as rumours swirled of a rift with players, he was handed an assistant -- Olympic coach Makoto Teguramori -- to help with communication.

Halilhodzic insisted he was no "dictator" -- but he admitted his frank approach was capable of "wounding" some people in Japan.

"A country like Japan has to play at a higher level," he insisted. "I'm truly engaged in this project.

"I push certain things, I say things that not everyone appreciates."

Halilhodzic took charge in March last year after Javier Aguirre was fired in the wake of Japan's flaccid Asian Cup title defence, and as match-fixing allegations swirled dating back to one of the Mexican's previous appointments.

Halilhodzic, 64, took Algeria to the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- "it still gives me goosebumps" -- and he is proud of his record with Japan: 13 wins, three draws and two defeats.

September's controversial 2-1 loss to the UAE still rankles, especially the "unfair" refereeing after officials failed to spot that a late Takuma Asano shot crossed the line.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic says it's a pleasure to work with his players, but they need to be "more vicious" play

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic says it's a pleasure to work with his players, but they need to be "more vicious"

(AFP)

"When you lose a match, you're alone. It's the same in Japan as anywhere," Halilhodzic said. "You're the ideal scapegoat, it suits everyone."

Despite any communication problems, Halilhodzic said he enjoyed working with a Japan squad which includes AC Milan's Keisuke Honda, Borussia Dortmund forward Shinji Kagawa and Southampton defender Maya Yoshida.

"It's truly a pleasure to work with them," he said, praising their discipline. However, he complained that time was always short and that his Europe-based players are jetlagged when they arrive for international duty.

The next assignment for Halilhodzic and his men is on November 15, when they host table-topping Saudi Arabia in Saitama -- a game they cannot afford to lose.

"I'm full of ambition (for the World Cup) but the road ahead isn't easy," he warned.

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