Japan coach Nishino says timing of promotion a challenge

Japan Football Association (JFA) new coach Akira Nishino, right, speaks with JFA President Kozo Tashima during a press conference at its headquarters in Tokyo, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Monday, two months before the World Cup, and immediately replaced him with Nishino. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

TOKYO (AP) Japan coach Akira Nishino is facing a difficult challenge by taking over from Vahid Halilhodzic with only two months to go before the World Cup.

Japan fired Halilhodzic on Monday and replaced him with Nishino, who served as the technical director of the Japanese soccer association for the past two years.

”It is a very difficult task to undertake the position of the coach at this time,” Nishino said Thursday. ”But I feel a deep responsibility and will make utmost efforts to build a strong team for Russia.”

Nishino is the former coach of Japanese club Gamba Osaka, and also coached Japan at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He said he wants to take advantage of Japan’s technical skills and create an atmosphere where the players can be themselves.

Association president Kozo Tashima cited ”communication” problems and his players losing trust as reasons for the firing of Halilhodzic, who was hired in March 2015 after leading Algeria to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The end for Halilhodzic came in two international friendlies last month in Europe against non-World Cup teams. It salvaged a 1-1 draw on the last kick of the game in a friendly against Mali, and days later lost to Ukraine 2-1.

Japan will be playing in its sixth consecutive World Cup and has only twice reached the knockout round – losing both times in the last 16.

It reached the knockout stage in 2002 under French coach Philippe Troussier – it was the co-host that year with South Korea – and again in 2010 under Japanese coach Takeshi Okada.

Japan opens the World Cup on June 19 against Colombia, and also faces Senegal and Poland in group play.