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JFA Website Special

Yasuhito Endo will be going to his second World Cup this year, but this time he wants to get on the pitch. The Gamba Osaka midfielder was called up in 2006, but never got to play, so this year he is determined to make an impression. The 30-year-old AFC Player of the Year in 2009 generally keeps his emotions hidden behind a “poker face,” but his determination to contribute to the team in South Africa was evident when he talked to JFA Web.

Q: What do you think of the development of the national team since qualifying for the World Cup?
After qualifying, I think the team has developed well and moved in the right direction. As we played a lot of qualifiers at home, I felt it was important to see to what extent we could show our ability in away matches. We did that to some degree against Ghana [in the Netherlands] and South Africa [in Port Elizabeth], and I felt we were heading in the right direction, improving the precision of our game, which we’ve been working on under coach Okada.

Q: You were in the World Cup squad for 2006 but didn’t get an opportunity to play in the tournament. Has that made your desire to play in the 2010 tournament stronger?
The World Cup is the tournament that’s attracted me since I was small, and I was there in 2006 but couldn’t do enough to get on the pitch to make a contribution to the team. So, I have a strong wish [to take part] in this coming tournament.
However, it is no good for your team if you show your personal feelings. I would prefer to hide things inside myself and do my best to help our team produce good results in the tournament. Since we ended with such huge disappointment last time, this time I am hoping that we can put on a good performance and get good results. I would like to make it a good World Cup this time around.

<JFA Web 2010 World Cup Special>~ Talking to Japan’s players ~Yasuhito Endo: Japan’s Mr. CoolQ: You seem to have a strong sense of team spirit; has that always been the case?
I’ve felt that way for a long time, even from my junior high school days. Football is a team sport and you can only do things with your team. And it’s not just 11 players; there are substitutes and those who cannot even make it to the subs, and I want to produce a result for them. I started feeling this strongly when I was at high school.
I think the current national team has grown and become united through the World Cup qualifiers. The more we played and won in the qualifiers, the stronger and more united we became as a team.
We have solidarity as a unit and I think we are heading in the right direction together. I suppose there will be some difficult moments ahead, but I hope we can develop into a unit that is able to face and fight adversity with solidarity.

Q: What do you think the main differences are between four years ago and today?
The biggest difference is that the players on the current team are looking ahead in the same direction and every one of us is confident about that. The team four years ago wasn’t really like that. We were given so much freedom to play with our own ideas, and we didn’t have the same direction. It may be a small thing, but the bigger the tournament you play, the bigger that gap can affect your game.

Q: Do you think that’s one of this team’s strong points?
Yes, I think so. It could make a big difference for us.

Q: How do you see the changes to you and the national team over the last four years?
The biggest change is the expectations of the people around us. That’s definitely increased, and our sense of responsibility has reached a new level. Performance-wise, I’m not really sure what to say, but I always try hard to improve, and I will continue doing so.

Q: Do you think that the standard of the national team has improved?
Definitely. Every player has better awareness than before. The younger players also have a stronger mentality than when coach Okada took over. All we have to do is to show that on the pitch.

<JFA Web 2010 World Cup Special>~ Talking to Japan’s players ~Yasuhito Endo: Japan’s Mr. CoolQ: Is preparing for the World Cup something enjoyable for you?
Yes. Only a certain number of players can go to the World Cup and to go there for your country is the greatest honor you can have. It’s the showcase all footballers want to be in. Saying that, I suppose the pressures are also greater when you feel you are doing it for your country. But first you should be able to enjoy your football.
It is also a battle against yourself. Perhaps, things won’t go as smoothly as you want, but it is important not to stop there. You must try and make it work. On top of that, if the players don’t enjoy what they are doing, the people won’t enjoy watching them play. This should be the starting point.

Q: What’s your oldest World Cup memory?
Italy 1990. I was 10 years old and my oldest brother was at junior high school. I watched the games with my brothers on television or on video. I watched a lot of football around that age.
I remember the games of West Germany and Argentina and the game in which “Pixy” [Dragan Stojkovic] scored directly from a free-kick. I watched that over and over again. I also remember [Salvatore] Schilacci bursting out and becoming the top scorer of the tournament. That was impressive.

Q: When did you start feeling that you wanted to be a national team player and play in the World Cup?
I had such thoughts in my early days at high school as I had already started hoping to be a professional footballer in junior high school when the J. League was launched. After taking part in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, I set my next objective, which was to become a senior team player. The World Cup is the ultimate objective for a footballer, and now I want to achieve that objective.

Q: How are you going to work on your preparation in the remaining days?
Last time, I just focused on myself, but this time that is not enough. I also want to focus on how we can work as a team. I hope we can get together in a good atmosphere and in good condition in our tune-up camp in May and make good preparations there.

Q: Are you feeling responsibility as a senior player on the squad, especially as you have the experience of the previous tournament?
Yes, I am. I felt that way during the qualifiers as well. I would like to create an atmosphere where the younger players can come and talk to me when they want some kind of advice or something. I want to be able to say something to them if I can.

Q: You often say that you don’t feel extra pressure. Will you be like that in the World Cup?
I won’t really know until I get there, but I think you must approach the games in the tournament like you do in the J. League or other national team matches. It would be nice to play well and win our games. I would like to stay in control and do my best for our team in the tournament.

(Interview and text by Kumi Kinohara, sports journalist)

Profile ----Yasuhito Endo----

Yasuhito EndoBorn in Kagoshima on January 28, 1980. Stands 177 cm and weighs 73 kg. After finishing at Kagoshima Jitsugyo High School in March 1998, joined Yokohama Flugels and made his J. League debut on March 21 that year. Due to the dismantling of the Flugels at the end of 1998, moved to Kyoto Sanga in 1999. After Sanga were relegated in 2000, joined Gamba Osaka. With Gamba, won the J. League in 2005, the Emperor’s Cup in 2008 and 2009, and clinched the AFC Champions League and finished third in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2008. Named AFC Player of the Year in 2009. For Japan, made his senior team debut in November 2002 against Argentina and marked his first goal on August 20, 2003, against Nigeria. Was a member of the 2006 World Cup squad under Zico. Has been capped 91 times and scored 8 times (as of April 8, 2010). Also played for the Under-16 and Under-18 sides. Was a runnerup in the World Youth Championship in 1999 with the Under-20 side and a quarterfinalist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics with the Under-23s. His two older brothers also played football.