Tokyo (AFP) - Japan turned their attention Thursday to the hunt for a new national football coach after Alberto Zaccheroni resigned in the wake of a winless World Cup, with former Mexico and Espanyol manager Javier Aguirre seen in the frame.
The Japan Football Association has offered the Mexican veteran, who led his nation to the last-16 twice in 2002 and 2010, a four-year deal with an annual wage of 1.5 million euros ($2 million), the Nikkan Sports daily reported.
Japan went to Brazil brimful of confidence after an easy qualifying campaign, with predictions they would reach the quarter-finals and even a suggestion from talismanic playmaker Keisuke Honda that the Blue Samurai could lift the trophy.
But the four-time Asian champions never really fired, and their best result was a spiritless 0-0 draw against Greece.
Less than 24 hours after a 4-1 walloping by Colombia, Zaccheroni fell on his sword, bringing down the curtain on a four-year reign which followed his years of piloting various Serie-A sides including AC Milan.
The Sports Nippon online edition said despite the failure in Brazil, the team needs to stick to the path the Italian tactician put them on, emphasising speed and intensity, and is looking for a successor with a similar style.
Aguirre, 55, has a long career coaching in Europe, particularly in Spain, directing clubs such as Osasuna and Atletico Madrid. He quit as Espanyol manager last month.
The daily said that JFA technical director Hiromi Hara, charged with handpicking the successor, "worships the soccer in Spain, which makes Aguirre a perfect candidate".
The Daily Sports Online, meanwhile, reported Japan has already approached Jose Pekerman, the coach of Columbia's national team, who handed the team their drubbing on Tuesday in Cuiaba.
Former Yugoslavia and Red Star Belgrade captain Dragan Stojkovic, who coached J-League side Nagoya Grampus from 2008-2013, has told Serbian media that he has been offered a managerial job by Japan and Red Star, according to the tabloid Nikkan Gendai.
- Resignation was expected -
Zaccheroni, 61, announced his resignation on Wednesday and said he took "full responsibility" for the Asian champions' exit from Brazil with two losses and one draw.
His contract was due to expire after the tournament but his resignation leaves Japan needing to bed in a new coach quickly before their Asian Cup defence in January.
Zaccheroni's departure after Brazil 2014 has been widely seen as a foregone conclusion as his four predecessors each left the job immediately after the Blue Samurai's four straight World Cup campaigns regardless of their results.
Japan reached the last-16 in 2002 and 2010.
But he has never been free from criticism against his reputed favouritism toward European-based players and ineffective substitutions.
JFA adviser Kunishige Kamamoto, 70, a former star striker who scored 75 goals for Japan, told Nikkan Gendai that Zaccheroni was "haphazard and short on ideas in whatever he did in Brazil".
He also lamented a perennial lack of "overwhelming strikers" among the Blue Samurai.
Japan waltzed through qualifying and brought a squad full of quality to the tournament, including AC Milan's Honda, Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, and Inter-Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo.
But after taking the lead against Ivory Coast, they lost the opener 2-1 and then drew 0-0 against Greece. Tuesday's big defeat to Colombia left them rock-bottom in Group C.
Zaccheroni sobbed as he told his players of his decision to resign at Japan's base camp in Itu near Sao Paolo, according to Japanese media.
"We have been a wonderful team. I would select the same members if I ever have a chance to select again," he said.
Nagatomo, 27, shed tears as he told reporters: "We could not bring victory to him and I really regret it."
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, 30, said, "He has come to a country with different language and culture and respected Japan. It's been good to work with him."