NARASHINO, CHIBA PREFECTURE – He turns 35 in January, but Yasuhito Endo, Japan’s most-capped player, says he has no intention of taking his foot off the pedal as he enters his 13th year with the senior national team.
Endo has enjoyed an outstanding 2014 season and was deservedly named J. League Player of the Year after helping Gamba Osaka win a domestic league and cup treble following the disappointment of Japan’s early exit at the World Cup in Brazil in the summer.
Now he says he is looking forward to a record fourth appearance with Japan at the Asian Cup in Australia in January and has given the Samurai Blue every chance of defending the title they won in Qatar in 2011.
“I can’t have any complaints about the season I had with my club and, although the results were disappointing at the World Cup, it has been a satisfying year,” Endo told reporters at Japan’ training camp in Chiba Prefecture on Wednesday.
“We (Japan) have a new coach now and it is onwards and upwards. For both club and country every season I start from scratch, and I am just grateful that I have been picked to play for the national team for such a long time.
“I keep setting myself high standards and long may it continue,” he said.
Endo, once described by former Gamba coach Akira Nishino as being “a bit like a mole — looking exhausted but still being able to find a way through,” made his full national team debut in 2002 and has a record 148 caps to his name.
He helped Japan win the Asian Cup in China in 2004, although he missed the final through suspension. Three years later in Vietnam, Japan lost in the semifinals to Saudi Arabia, but he finally got on the pitch for the 2011 final to help the Samurai Blue see off Australia 1-0 in extra time in Doha.
“It is different to compare all the Asian Cups because they are always in different places with different people (in the team), but it has never been an easy tournament to win,” said Endo.
“I think our opponents will be marking us tightly (in Australia), so we have to make sure we prepare properly and have the right mind set, otherwise it is going to be difficult to win the championship again.
“Whatever game we have faced the preparation has always been right, but there are always going to be games that we can’t control properly. Results are everything and if we get off to a good start in the group phase then we will be in with a chance of winning the title.”
He added, “Winning the championship is our aim and it is not often that we get this much time to spend together. This camp is a good opportunity to build a solid foundation and if we can keep wining while we gel as a team it will be a great tournament for us.”
AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda has said he is looking to Endo to provide him with the inspiration to lead Japan to the title again.
“Obviously this is the first time for me to be facing this situation and Yatto (Endo) is the only player in the squad that knows what it is like to be challenging for the title the second time in a row,” Honda said earlier this week.
“Whether we should prepare the same way we did last time or change things around is an answer I am still looking for.
“I will think in my own way how we should organize as champions and maintain our strength and use my own ideas while using (Endo) as a reference. Trying to get a good result that way would be ideal.”