Former Super Eagles coach Philippe Troussier has cast doubt on the country’s hopes of surviving their group at next year’s World Cup, describing their draw as “bad news”.
The Frenchman, who led the Japan to the last 16 as 2002 co-hosts, fears that Colombia and Senegal could have too much firepower for Japan in their first two Group H games in Russia.
“Japan doesn’t have to be scared,” Troussier, who had a brief stint at the helm of Nigeria national team in 1997, told AFP in an interview.
“It’s a very balanced group and all four teams will have dreams of progressing. But I’m not optimistic about Japan’s chances.
“For me, it’s not a good draw for Japan,” he added. “The fact that they play Colombia and Senegal in their first two matches is not good news.”
The Japanese, currently coached by grizzled Franco-Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, were also grouped with Poland in Friday’s draw in Moscow.
But Troussier suspects Japan’s fate might already be sealed before they run into Robert Lewandowski and friends in their third match.
“Japan’s first match is key,” said the 62-year-old, known as the “White Witchdoctor” during coaching stints in Africa, including the national teams of Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa.
“They must beat Colombia but that won’t be easy. They have four or five individual players who can hurt you at any time — the same with Senegal.”
Japan, who will be competing in a sixth successive World Cup, want to avenge a humiliating 4-1 thrashing by Colombia at the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
– European philosophy –
“I don’t know if you need to use revenge as motivation,” said Troussier, whose success in 2002 was overshadowed by joint host South Korea’s astonishing run to the semi-finals.
“You can’t compare the teams four years on. We don’t know if Vahid will even use players like (Keisuke) Honda or (Shinji) Kagawa.
“Vahid is a European coach with a European philosophy,” added the Frenchman.
“He’s a defensive coach and his strategy will be to play on the counter-attack. The quality of Japan is their collective strength, but at the World Cup, it will be difficult for them.”
Halilhodzic took Algeria to the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, but Troussier believes a lack of creative spark could prove Japan’s downfall in Russia.
“You need individual players who can make a difference — Japan doesn’t have that quality,” he said.
“Look at (Cristiano) Ronaldo or (Lionel) Messi. Colombia and Senegal have plenty of players like that. They’re going to cause Japan real problems.”
Troussier tipped Senegal, led by their talismanic Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, to make a splash.
“They don’t only have Sadio Mane,” he insisted.
“Senegal’s players play at Europe’s top clubs. They have seven or eight individuals who can hurt you — even on the bench.
“I think Japan will face big problems at the World Cup,” added Troussier, who has hopes of finishing his coaching career in Japan at a J-League club.
“It will be difficult for them to reach the second round.”