By Jack Tarrant
SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Saburo Kawabuchi, president of Japan Top League and one of the most influential figures in Japanese soccer, caused a stir shortly before his country’s World Cup opener by saying the team's fans were just lucky to be at the World Cup.
Hours before Japan kick off their Russia campaign against Colombia on Tuesday, Kawabuchi said the national team were going nowhere under former boss Vahid Halilhodzic.
“When Halilhodzic was coach, we had no chance of winning,” he wrote on Twitter, comparing Japan to teams like Italy and the Netherlands who did not qualify for Russia.
“We are just lucky to be here now so enjoy the game.”
Halilhodzic was replaced by former Japan Football Association technical director Akira Nishino in April despite the Bosnian leading Japan to qualification for the World Cup.
“Now that Nishino is the coach, I can see a slight hope.” Kawabuchi said.
Kawabuchi played for and managed the Blue Samurai before being president of the JFA from 2002-08.
Japan’s other Group H opponents are Poland and Senegal.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond)