Tokyo, Japan | AFP | Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic promised to avenge his side’s humiliating 4-1 thrashing by Colombia at the 2014 World Cup following Friday’s draw for next summer’s finals in Russia.
The firebrand Franco-Bosnian admitted “it could have been worse” after the Blue Samurai were drawn alongside the Colombians, Senegal and Poland in Group H for their sixth successive World Cup appearance.
“There was the possibility of finding ourselves in a more difficult group,” Halilhodzic told Japanese media.
“H is for Halilhodzic,” joked the 65-year-old, pointing to Japan’s opening game with Colombia as key to his side’s progress at the 2018 tournament. “It’s a group where all the teams have their own strengths.
“The Colombia game will be key. Purely by coincidence I watched a video of them a few days ago. For Japan it will be chance to get revenge for the last World Cup.”
Japan went into the 2014 finals in Brazil with hopes of reaching the knockout stages, only to exit with barely a whimper as they were torn to shreds by Colombia in their final game.
“I know Senegal well,” said Halilhidzic, who led Algeria to the last 16 in Brazil.
“It will be important how we cope with players who are almost two metres tall,” he added.
“Poland have one of the best strikers in the world in (Robert) Lewandowski so we have seven months to determine our goals and to prepare in earnest to achieve them. I want the players to be ready for Russia.”
Japan reached the knockout stages as 2002 tournament co-hosts under Frenchman Philippe Troussier and again at the 2010 finals in South Africa under Takeshi Okada.
But they have failed to reach those heights in recent years and Japan Football Association chief Kozo Tashima demanded an improvement at the 2018 finals.
“We’ve drawn some great teams but I hope we’re prepared well enough to compete,” he said.
“Obviously the first game with Colombia will be important but we have to be proud of our performance on the world stage.”