One of the most consistent performers in Takeshi Okada’s Japan team, midfielder Yasuhito Endo played a key role in their 1-0 victory over Cameroon. After featuring prominently again in a narrow defeat against the Netherlands, Endo went on to justify his status as the reigning AFC Player of the Year in the 3-1 dismantling of Denmark, driving the midfield and scoring their second goal with a sublime free-kick.
Ahead of the Samaurai Blues' historic last-16 clash with Paraguay, the quietly spoken 30-year-old took time out to talk to FIFA about his scoring secrets, Japan’s strengths and their prospects for the remaining competition.
FIFA: You left your opponents in awe with your free-kick against Denmark. Do you have a special method or technique when taking set-pieces?
Yasuhito Endo: I took the free-kick as I always do, there was nothing special. But each time I have to take a different angle, if needed, when kicking.
Your next opponents are Paraguay, a team also known for their sublime passing techniques. What are your thoughts ahead of that match?
We have watched their games. They are really hard-working players and the team is quite creative. That said, we have a great deal in common so we must strive hard to defeat them.
We are mentally strong and we are now playing with a really positive attitude.
"Running football" and free-kicks are the things people mention when they talk of Japan's strengths, qualities which have helped you overcome Cameroon and Denmark to qualify for the second round. What is your view?
I think this is correct. We have put in a great deal of effort in training so we are able to move forward very strongly when the ball is passed. Set-pieces are also an important weapon for us. We are also strong when playing as a group. When you perform on the international stage you have to show your best otherwise you have no way of winning, and we must keep on doing that if we are to continue our good run.
When Japan qualified for South Africa 2010 a year ago, coach Takeshi Okada stated the team’s goal was to reach the semi-finals. Having made the Round of 16, are you confident that you will achieve that goal?
Yes, I am confident. I hope the forthcoming matches will turn out in our favour.
Japan used to be vulnerable when they played against physically stronger European teams, but having played so well against the Netherlands and Denmark, do you think you have learned how to cope with them?
First of all, we are mentally strong and we are now playing with a really positive attitude. In terms of tactics, we have changed a bit too, so the team are going in the right direction. Needless to say, our goal is to keep going like this and win games.