Japan fires Halilhodzic as coach; replaced by Akira Nishino

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2016 file photo, Japan's coach Vahid Halilhodzic gives directions to his players during their 2018 World Cup Russia qualifier soccer match against Saudi Arabia, at Saitama Stadium, in Saitama, north of Tokyo. Halilhodzic is expected to be dismissed as Japan's head coach on Monday, April 9, 2018, following two disappointing international friendly matches and with the World Cup opening in just over two months. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama, File)
Japan Football Association (JFA) President Kozo Tashima bites his lips during a press conference at its headquarters in Tokyo, Monday, April 9, 2018. Tashima said Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic two months before soccer’s World Cup in Russia and replaced him immediately on Monday with Japanese Akira Nishino, the technical director of the JFA. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Japan Football Association (JFA) President Kozo Tashima speaks during a press conference at its headquarters in Tokyo, Monday, April 9, 2018. Tashima said Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic two months before soccer’s World Cup in Russia and replaced him immediately on Monday with Japanese Akira Nishino, the technical director of the JFA. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
This Oct. 2017 photo shows then JFA technical director Akira Nishino. Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima announced in a press conference, Monday, April 9, 2018, that its head coach Vahid Halilhodzic has been dismissed and is replaced by Nishino, two months before the start of the World Cup in Russia. (Kyodo News via AP)
FILE - In this March 31, 2015 file photo, Japan's coach Vahid Halilhodzic reacts during an international friendly soccer match between Japan and Uzbekistan in Tokyo. Halilhodzic is expected to be dismissed as Japan's head coach on Monday, April 9, 2018, following two disappointing international friendly matches and with the World Cup opening in just over two months. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
In this Nov. 9, 2017 file photo, Japan's coach Vahid Halilhodzic reacts during a press conference, in Villeneuve d'Ascq, near Lille, northern France. Halilhodzic is expected to be dismissed as Japan's head coach on Monday, April 9, 2018, following two disappointing international friendly matches and with the World Cup opening in just over two months. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)
In this Nov. 15, 2016 photo, Japan's coach Vahid Halilhodzic is seen before their 2018 World Cup Russia qualifier soccer match against Saudi Arabia, at Saitama Stadium, in Saitama, north of Tokyo. Halilhodzic is expected to be dismissed as Japan's head coach on Monday, April 9, 2018, following two disappointing international friendly matches and with the World Cup opening in just over two months. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

TOKYO — Japan fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Monday, two months before the World Cup, and immediately replaced him with Akira Nishino, the technical director of the Japanese soccer association.

To explain the abrupt firing, association president Kozo Tashima cited "communication" problems and his players losing trust in the coach.

"This has become an urgent situation," Tashima said.

"For the new coach, we had no choice but to promote from within the association as the World Cup is only two months away," Tashima added. "We thought the coach should be someone who has watched this team the most from within the association."

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.

Until Monday's announcement, it had gone primarily with non-Japanese coaches, including Brazil's Zico, Italy's Alberto Zaccheroni, Mexico's Javier Aguirre, and Bosnia's Halilhodzic.

Nishino is the former coach of Japanese club Gamba Osaka, and also coached Japan at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

"We came to this decision because I thought this could increase the chances of the team winning — even if it's just by a little," Tashima said.

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.

"After games with Mali and Ukraine, during and after those games, communication with the players and trust has declined a little," Tashima said.

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

Halilhodzic was hired in March 2015 after leading Algeria to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Japan, South Korea and Australia — traditionally, Asia's most powerful teams — struggled in World Cup qualifying before advancing.

South Korea fired coach Uli Stielike last year and replaced him with Shin Tae-yong. Ange Postecoglou quit almost immediately after Australia secured qualification for Russia and has been replaced by Bert van Marwijk.

Asia's dominant teams have tended to struggle at the World Cup when the top teams from Europe and Latin America are peaking.

South Korea's run to the semifinals in 2002 as co-host remains the best run by an Asian team at the World Cup.

Halilhodzic guided Algeria to the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup, where they lost to Germany in extra time. And the JFA had been hoping Halilhodzic could create a similar breakthrough for Japan.

But recent pressure appears to have weighed down the team.

None of Asia's four representatives won a match at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, all failing to advance beyond the group stage. Japan, South Korea and Iran each had one draw and two losses and Australia lost all three matches in a group containing the Netherlands, Chile and Spain.

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SNTV video journalist Koji Ueda and Associated Press video journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.

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