Halilhodzic safe after Japan draw in Australia
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Japan's 1-1 draw with Asian champions Australia on Tuesday has made safe coach Vahid Halilhodzic's job at least until the next round of World Cup qualifiers.
The 63-year-old Bosnian, who took over in March last year, had come under fire after the Blue Samurai started the final round of Asian qualifying with a shock home loss to the United Arab Emirates.
A 2-0 win away at Group B whipping boys Thailand and a scrappy 2-1 home victory over the similarly unfancied Iraq were not enough to ease the pressure on Halilhodzic.
The draw in Melbourne, however, prompted Japan Football Association technical director Akira Nishino to confirm the coach would still be in place when group leaders Saudi Arabia visit Saitama on Nov. 15.
"Of course," he told Kyodo news agency. "This is not a bad result at all."
Halilhodzic certainly felt he and his team had won the tactical battle with the Australians, who led the group unbeaten going into Tuesday's match.
"I thought we played a fantastic match. We managed the game with good tactics," the former Algeria coach told reporters.
"If we had been a bit fresher and had more pace, we could have won. I wanted to throw a surprise, tactically. We needed to be efficient.
"Australia can only score from free kicks and corners. I gave very specific instructions ... on set pieces. Australia are Asian champions and we could not afford to take many risks."
The Australian players expressed surprise that a Japanese team with attacking talents such as AC Milan's Keisuke Honda had played so defensively after taking a fifth minute lead through Genki Haraguchi.
Halilhodzic, though, was unapologetic if disappointed not to come away with the win.
"I don't regret a thing," he said. "It's a little bit frustrating. We prepared well tactically. The boys played well, especially in defence. We let them have the bulk of possession. We should have two more points.
"They had very few chances because we maintained our defensive discipline."
The Blue Samurai have seven points after four of the 10 matches in the round and sit behind the Saudis (10) and the Socceroos (8) in Group B.
Only the top two qualify directly for Russia in 2018, which would be Japan's sixth successive finals appearance.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Greg Stutchbury)