Japan can be challengers, not tourists in Russia - coach

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has urged the country’s soccer authorities to give him as much time as possible to prepare the team for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.

Football Soccer - Japan v Australia - World Cup 2018 Qualifiers - Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama Japan - August 31, 2017 - Japan's head coach Vahid Halilhodzic (R) and player Keisuke Honda are seen after winningtheir match REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The Samurai Blue qualified for their sixth successive finals appearance with an emphatic 2-0 victory over Asian champions Australia in Saitama on Thursday.

Japan are now assured of finishing top of Group B in Asian qualifying before their final match away to second-placed Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Tuesday.

Halilhodzic, however, has already turned his focus towards next year in Russia, giving the players dossiers on what he expects from them and how they can prepare to ensure they at least get to the second round.

The Bosnian, who was appointed to the role in 2015, has complained in the past about the lack of time he gets to spend with his players but has been guaranteed by the Japan Football Association (JFA) four weeks with the squad before Russia.

“I am counting on the J-League and the JFA to put together a good schedule ahead of the World Cup,” he told Kyodo News.

“When we go to the World Cup, we will have four weeks to get ready. Four weeks will allow me to mould the team the way I want to mentally and physically.

“Then we can go to the World Cup as challengers, not tourists.”

The Bosnian took Algeria to the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they pushed Germany to extra time with the eventual world champions eking out a 2-1 victory to advance to the quarter-finals.

Halilhodzic, however, said that level of performance had taken almost four years of planning and for the national body and local league to work together to give the players as much time to prepare as possible.

“When I first got to Algeria, they were a wreck,” he said.

“But three-and-a-half years of preparation made them the team they were at the World Cup.”

Prior to the Australia game, local media reported that the coach’s job was on the line, but JFA President Kozo Tashima told reporters after the Australia match that he wanted Halilhodzic in charge through the World Cup.

Halilhodzic, however, could still throw a potential spanner into those plans, revealing at the post-match media conference that a personal family issue had almost forced him to leave the team before Thursday’s qualifier.

“I have a big problem in my private life. You may not know it but this issue occurred before the match and I actually considered returning home,” he said.

“But I have a responsibility to the people that support this team. I am sure you have questions about the private issue but I can’t talk about it right now.”

Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ian Ransom