New Samurai Blue head coach Akira Nishino stresses teamwork

Akira Nishino was formally unveiled on Thursday as the new head coach of Japan’s national team, promising to lead the 2018 World Cup participants through the turbulence caused by the shock firing of his predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic.

Nishino, who until his promotion on Monday was the Japan Football Association’s technical director, will have just two months to prepare the Samurai Blue for a Group H featuring Poland, Colombia, and Senegal.

“Of course I want results, but first of all I want the players to show us the performances they’re capable of,” Nishino told reporters at JFA headquarters. “I want to reach the knockout tournament, and that’s the team I’ll be making. But I won’t be giving the players any specific numerical goals.”

The 63-year-old faced several questions about his vision for the side and the criteria he will use to select his final squad of 23 players.

“Halilhodzic’s style absolutely included things that Japan has been weak at until now, and I want to bring over some of that to my team,” Nishino said, “but in Japan we combine technical ability and team unity. The players should be able to play above their level at their club, and I want to create conditions in which they can do so.

“I think that even on a national team you can create a team capable of executing your ideal vision of football. I accomplished that as coach of the [1996] Olympic team. I want to select the squad with an understanding of each player’s characteristics.

“I won’t restrict the players in how they play. Japanese football’s strength is in organisation and coordination as a group. That’s what I want from my players.

“I don’t think our base group of players will change (from Halilhodzic’s selections), and I think that’s fine. I’d like to consider new players but on the whole I think we need to look at the players we’ve seen thus far.”

Nishino, who lifted every possible domestic and continental trophy as manager of Gamba Osaka from 2002 to 2011, now faces the task of steering the 60th-ranked FIFA nation back on track in time for the mid-June main event in Russia.

“I don’t think the team is collapsing,” he said. “The players have been giving their best performances for the national team. I think they can still do more, and we have to operate together as a team.”

Nishino further confirmed that he expected his coaching staff, which will include Rio Olympic head coach Makoto Teguramori and Tokyo Olympic head coach Hajime Moriyasu, to announce Japan’s final squad after their May 30 friendly against Ghana.