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By ESPN Staff

Spectre of Osim haunts Japan coach Okada

TOKYO, April 1 (Reuters) - With the spectre of his predecessor looming over him, Japan coach Takeshi Okada's control over the national side looks increasingly fragile.

Okada took the Japan job for a second time last December while Bosnian Ivica Osim was battling for his life following a severe stroke.

But the cracks have started to appear since Okada's return, culminating in last week's 1-0 World Cup qualifying upset loss in Bahrain.

Okada blasted his players for their sloppy performance against the Gulf side but Osim, recently released from hospital, took a thinly disguised swipe at the team's management.

'If there are problems with the national side, the players are doing well,' the 66-year-old told Japanese media, jabbing his crutches at reporters as he climbed out of his car.

Okada, meanwhile, has begun showing signs of stress and wants to make a clean break from Osim's style of football.

'From now we will do it my way,' Okada told reporters. 'As soon as I became coach the World Cup qualifiers were upon us so it would have been risky to make big changes.

'I had to resist doing that but now I am going to put my ideas into place.'

Okada led Japan to their first World Cup finals in 1998 but has struggled to stamp his authority on the team second time around.

Things could be further complicated for Okada with Osim apparently set to be offered an advisory role within the Japan Football Association (JFA).

Several Japan players admitted to being confused about tactics after their meltdown in Manama, which left the team three points behind Bahrain in the qualifying group.

Japan's defending at set-pieces will have caused Okada particular concern after scrapping the man-marking system Osim had introduced in favour of a zonal set-up.

'I don't want to explain everything in detail because it could cause misunderstanding,' snapped Okada. 'I have never liked man-marking.'

Japan were largely shambolic at the 2006 World Cup, their campaign undermined before a ball had been kicked when midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata called the team 'rubbish.'

Osim took over from Brazilian Zico following Japan's swift exit from Germany but the former Yugoslavia boss also struggled to improve the team's fortunes.

Okada was brought in to restore cohesion to a side who have consistently failed to reach the heights they hit under Frenchman Philippe Troussier.

Japan reached the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup under his stewardship, only to be overshadowed by co-hosts South Korea's remarkable run to the semi-finals.

The current Japan side looks a pale imitation of the one Troussier turned into potential giant-killers six years ago -- a fact not lost on the country's top brass.

'All our bad habits came out against Bahrain,' said JFA president Saburo Kawabuchi, who has set a 2050 deadline for Japan to win the World Cup.

'We were terrible. If you don't run, you can't win. As for using their heads, they were almost at zero. It's make-or-break for us now.'