Nishino replaces dismissed Halilhodzic as Japan coach

FILE PHOTO: Akira Nishino, head coach of Japan's Gamba Osaka, watches their FIFA Club World Cup third-place playoff soccer match against Mexico's Pachuca in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan December 21, 2008. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan Football Association (JFA) technical director Akira Nishino will replace Vahid Halilhodzic as head coach of the Japanese national team just two months before the World Cup finals, the JFA said on Monday.

Nishino, who spent 10 seasons in charge of Gamba Osaka and became the JFA's technical director in 2016, will have little time to prepare for the World Cup, where Japan are drawn in Group H alongside Colombia, Poland and Senegal.

Japan have three friendly matches scheduled before opening their World Cup campaign against Colombia on June 19.

Halihodzic, who took over in March 2015, led the team to their sixth straight World Cup finals after they finished top of Asian qualifying Group B ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia.

However, pressure on the 65-year-old had been building and a draw with Mali and defeat to Ukraine in friendly matches last month did nothing to ease concerns about the team's form heading into the World Cup.

Kyodo news agency quoted JFA President Kozo Tashima as saying the Bosnian had been informed of the decision to replace him on Saturday.

He is the third coach to depart from one of the five Asian sides heading to Russia after they had secured qualification.

Australia and Saudi Arabia also changed coaches soon after they booked their places, while South Korea replaced German Uli Stielike with Shin Tae-yong for the final two matches of qualifying.

Japan's next warm-up game for the World Cup is against Ghana on May 30.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O'Brien)

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