Often dubbed the “crown jewel” of Japan’s midfield, Yasuhito Endo remains an integral part of the Samurai Blue even after more than a decade in the national team. Japan’s most capped player and the 2009 AFC Asian Footballer of the Year, Endo’s accurate passing, vision and lethal free-kicks have made him a fan favourite.

 

Endo made his professional debut for Yokohama Flugels in 1998, the year Japan reached its first FIFA World Cup™. He transferred to Kyoto Sanga the following season, where he played alongside Kazuyoshi “King Kazu” Miura and Korea Republic star Park Ji-Sung. He helped Japan reach the semi-finals of 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup Nigeria and played at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2001, Endo joined Gamba Osaka where he still plays today and has become the heart of the team.

 

Endo was overlooked for Japan’s squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan and though selected for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, he didn’t make an appearance on the pitch. Despite these disappointments, his star shone brightly in 2008 when he guided Gamba to its first AFC Champions League crown, and former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson heaped praise on Endo for his performance against the Red Devils in the FIFA Club World Cup the same year.

 

Endo finally tasted FIFA World Cup action at South Africa 2010 and was instrumental in Japan reaching the Round of 16. A trademark free-kick goal against Denmark in the group stage capped a memorable tournament for Endo who, while possibly lacking the international profile of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and some other European-based members of the national team, is certainly not short of world-class skills.

 

During his season with Yokohama, Endo was strongly influenced by team-mate and legendary Brazilian midfielder Cesar Sampaio. Many fans will be hoping Endo, 33, can repay the favour through some glittering performances at the FIFA Confederations Cup.