TOKYO: Japan coach Akira Nishino is set to come under the sort of intense scrutiny normally reserved for teams with genuine hopes of lifting the World Cup in Russia.
The 63-year-old finds himself on thin ice after taking over as Japan coach two months before the tournament following the controversial sacking of Franco-Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic.
Nishino will realistically need to steer the Blue Samurai to the last 16 to prevent the Japan Football Association (JFA) being left with egg on their face.
But should Japan exit the World Cup as meekly as they did the last time in 2014, Nishino and JFA chief Kozo Tashima in particular could be seeking alternative employment come late summer.
Operating under such pressure, Nishino is likely to play it safe in terms of team selection -- one factor in Halilhodzic's demise.
Talismanic forward Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa -- two of those thought to have been at loggerheads with the firebrand ex-coach -- are likely to be key to Nishino if fit.
Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki will, like Kagawa, be given every chance to recover from injury as Nishino looks to experience against Group H opponents Colombia, Senegal and Poland.
A 2-0 defeat to Ghana in a warmup game on May 30 was not the best start to their preparations.
Nishino is best remembered in Japan for coaching the under-23s when they beat a Brazil side containing Roberto Carlos 1-0 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, dubbed the "Miracle of Miami" by local media.
The former JFA technical director, who previously led Gamba Osaka to the J-League title in 2005 and an Asian Champions League triumph in 2008, will be hoping for similar fortune in Russia.
Capped 12 times by Japan as a player, Nishino looks a safe pair of hands to manage the fallout from Halilhodzic's messy dismissal.
But whether he can restore Japan's fragile confidence in time to negotiate a tough World Cup group, and justify the JFA's high-risk decision, remains to be seen.