Football: Japan coach gets 'go-between' after smiling ban

Japan head coach Vahid Halilhodzic attends a news conference in Bangkok on Sept 5, 2016.
Japan head coach Vahid Halilhodzic attends a news conference in Bangkok on Sept 5, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's under-fire football coach Vahid Halilhodzic has been handed an assistant to help him communicate with players after claims of a rift during their rocky World Cup qualifying campaign, reports said on Thursday.

There were calls for the Franco-Bosnian's head after last week's embarrassing 2-1 home defeat by the United Arab Emirates - and Halilhodzic did little to help his cause after the game by banning his players from smiling, according to Japanese media.

Tuesday's 2-0 win in Thailand soothed fears Japan could fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and may have saved Halilhodzic's job. But the Japan Football Association (JFA) have now turned to Olympic coach Makoto Teguramori to offer back-up to the 63-year-old firebrand, the Nikkan Sports daily said.

"We hope to be able to have him act as a go-between for the coach and players," JFA technical committee chief Akira Nishino was quoted as saying. "Vahid would also like that kind of support.

"They will meet and discuss the situation and we'll take it from there."

Halilhodzic will still be on thin ice when the Blue Samurai face Iraq at home on Oct 6, ahead of a daunting clash against Asian champions Australia in Melbourne five days later.

He took charge of Japan in March last year after the JFA fired Mexican Javier Aguirre following their Asian Cup flop in Australia and amid allegations of match-fixing dating back to a previous tenure in Spain.

Halilhodzic, who previously worked in France where a satirical puppet show teased him with a character named "Coach Vahid", led Algeria to the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup. But he has failed to inspire Japan, despite billing himself as "Mr Fix-it" on his appointment.

The defeat to UAE in Saitama was particularly galling for Japan after the same opposition sent them crashing out of last year's Asian Cup in the quarter-finals.

According to local media, Halilhodzic later issued a bizarre instruction to his players "not to be caught smiling", apparently wanting them to show contrition.