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VAHID REASONING

Japan have attended the last five World Cups and been perfectly nice about it. But the “Blue Samurai” haven’t exactly marked the tournament’s history. Even when they helped stage the thing in 2002 they were eclipsed by their co-hosts, as South Korea rode a wave of zany refereeing all the way to the semi-finals. So, apart from a couple of slick displays in 2010, Japan’s international achievements boil down to four Asian titles and unparalleled success in the Kirin Cup, an annual competition run by a brewery and whose other past winners include the United Arab Emirates and Scotland.

There were high hopes that Ethics 2018 might be different, that this would be the year Japan treated us to something really memorable. But then they went and sacked head coach Vahid Halilhodzic last month, lessening the chances of anyone from the Land of the Rising Sun generating a funk akin to Roy Keane’s or that of a whole posse of French mutineers in 2010. Halilhodzic, also fired by Ivory Coast on the eve of a previous World Cup but a success with Algeria in 2014, is a magnificently austere taskmaster who liked to announce his team selection from a lectern and had spoken of his wish to make Japanese players “more aggressive, street-smart and vicious”. Now he’s gone, the spoilsport Japanese FA ousting him lest his no-nonsense approach lead to under-performances or a tremendous ruckus on the global stage.

“Communication and trust with players became weakened,” explained the Sports Hochi newspaper, “and a sense of unity was lacking.” Halilhodzic disagreed, naturally. “I am in shock,” he fumed. “It’s very difficult for me to accept this decision. Believe me, I didn’t deserve it. There was a very good atmosphere in the squad and results were good.” Well, results weren’t that good – three wins in 12 matches – and performances have been meek, although Halilhodzic suggested that’s because some of the country’s star players, such Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, aren’t as hot as they used to be.

There were whispers that Japan might try and persuade Arsène Wenger to step in but instead they went a completely different route and appointed Akira Nishino, a well-spoken veteran whose glory days seem to be in the distant past. Nishino, in fairness, has previously overseen one of the proudest feats in Japanese football history, a victory over Brazil at the 1996 Olympics. He also made Gamba Osaka Asian champions in 2008. And in 2012 he wrote a lovely treatise on “the thrills of attacking football” and got some positive online reviews. “Even if it only increases the chances of winning at the World Cup by one or two per cent, we had to act,” wibbled Japanese federation president Kozo Tashima. Maybe the chances of Japan beating Colombia, Senegal or Poland this summer have increased a tad; the chances of a spectacular implosion have definitely lengthened.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I’d say [David Beckham’s] penalty against Argentina was my standout memory of watching England at World Cups. My manager now wouldn’t be too happy about that one” – Harry Kane makes himself popular with Mauricio Pochettino by reminiscing about when the Argentinian got done for Lil Mickey’s 2002 tumble.





Po’ Poch.



Po’ Poch. Photograph: Murad Sezer/AP

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FIVEЯ LETTERS

“Please advise $exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver that although St George’s Day isn’t a national holiday in England (last week’s World Cup FiveЯ), it is an official holiday in the city and state of Rio de Janeiro. It falls two days after the Queen’s actual birthday on 21 April, which by an anglophilic coincidence is also a Brazilian national holiday. Dia do São Jorge celebrates one of the heroes of syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion (‘Ogum’ or ‘Oxossi’), while its predecessor holiday honours Tiradentes, an 18th century revolutionary against the Portuguese Empire, hanged on that date for sedition in 1792” – Michael Royster.

“May I be the 1,057th pedant to point out that Andy Carroll (last week’s World Cup FiveЯ letters) was one of Kenny Dalglish’s first signings when he returned to manage Liverpool for a second time. Brendan Rodgers came later, and equally disastrously” – Martyn Wilson (and 1,056 others).

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com with “The FiveЯ” in the subject line. Or just “World Cup Fiver” if that’s easier. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver.

THE RECAP

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BITS AND BOBS

The USA! USA!! USA!!! state-in-chief is bringing his unique brand of subtle and measured chat to their joint World Cup 2026 bid with Canada and Mexico, having a dig at Fifa’s warning against the use of political influence in the battle with Morocco to host. “I hope all African countries and countries throughout the world [know] that we also will be supporting you and that they will likewise support us in our bid,” he warned. “We will be watching very closely.”





Yes, President Muhammadu Buhari.



Yes, President Muhammadu Buhari. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

It’s not all fun and games. Peru captain Paolo Guerrero is in danger of missing the tournament. After testing positive for a jazz salt metabolite, which evidence suggests came from a mug of cocoa tea, he may be punished according to Wada’s strict liability rule. “Paolo is and continues to be very hopeful,” cheered his lawyer, Paolo Fida. “We are confident that he will be able to play for Peru in the World Cup.”

Marseille defender Bouna Sarr only wants to play for Les Bleus in Russia amid reports that Senegal, for whom he’s also eligible, could call him up. “It’s France and nothing else, he tooted. “Nothing else is a big word [and a maverick one – World Cup FiveЯ Ed], but I always dreamed of playing for the France team,”

And apparently under the impression that expanding the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 is not quite inclusive enough, Gianni Infantino wants to stage a “mini World Cup” of eight teams every two years.

STILL WANT MORE?

Sean Ingle’s got a radical idea: hold an auction for World Cup hosts and stop corruption.

World Cup stunning moments: Roy Keane walks out on O’Ireland, plus the Miracle of Bern.

Who do you watch the World Cup with? Yes, we want to know.

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