TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) - Vahid Halilhodzic said Japan had taken a big risk by sacking him as coach before the World Cup as he defended his record at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday.
The Bosnian was dismissed earlier this month and replaced by Akira Nishino, just 10 weeks before the start of the World Cup in Russia.
The 65-year-old called the news conference to discuss his surprise dismissal. He detailed his achievements during his three years in charge of Japan and showed his anger and astonishment at the decision taken by the Japanese Football Association (JFA).
“I think that the JFA are taking a big, big risk,” he told a news conference held by the Japan National Press Club.
“Everybody back in France is saying ‘that cannot be the case in Japan’. Your society is about respect, paying respect. You judge it about whether I have been respected.
“After all the preparation, now another trainer is better positioned? That is an exceptional challenge. I think I was capable. But your president, he said ‘no, thank you’. It is hard to accept that.”
The JFA have yet to respond to Halilhodzic’s comments.
When explaining the reasons for Halilhodzic’s dismissal, JFA President Kozo Tashima cited a lack of communication between the Bosnian and many of his players, as well as poor results in recent friendlies.
Halilhodzic led Japan to their sixth consecutive World Cup finals, finishing top of a challenging Asian qualifying group that also included Australia and Saudi Arabia.
During a fervent address that lasted over 90 minutes, Halilhodzic also read out messages of support he had received from colleagues, members of the media and former players.
He dismissed the poor friendly results — Japan has won just one game involving the first team since qualification — as being the result of experimentation before the World Cup.
He added that accusations he had a poor relationship with the players were wrong and that everything he had told them had been fair.
“It really is something I want to say to the players a big, big bravo and a big, big thank you,” said Halilhodzic.
“For three years, I never had a problem with anyone, including the players. During the three years I was in permanent communication with my players, both based abroad and domestically.
“I have never criticised a player in public, a specific person, and every time I said ‘it is my fault... It is on me’.”
“But, in my room, face-to-face, it was a little different. Because what I want to say, I will say to your face.”
He also thanked the players for their commitment and said he hoped Japan would do well in a tough World Cup group that also includes Colombia, Senegal and Poland.
At the end of the news conference, Halilhodzic was presented with gifts from the Japan National Press Club and was applauded by members of the media as he left.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis