Stuttgart and Germany favourite, Wataru Endo, looks set for a memorable 2022/23 campaign. - © Daniel Kopatsch/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
Stuttgart and Germany favourite, Wataru Endo, looks set for a memorable 2022/23 campaign. - © Daniel Kopatsch/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
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Wataru Endo: Who is VfB Stuttgart's Japanese hero with FIFA World Cup ambitions?

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A scorer of one of the most iconic goals in VfB Stuttgart's history, Wataru Endo will one day go down as a cult hero with fans of Die Schwaben. But just who is the Japanese defensive midfielder with the World Cup - and Germany - in his sights?

Wataru Endo

Age: 29
Club:
VfB Stuttgart
Position:
Defensive midfield
Country:
Japan (41 caps, two goals )

Key stats

A native of Yokohama, Endo hit the big time when offered a contract by Shonan Bellmare in 2010. Helping the team from the greater Tokyo area win the second-division title during his time at the club, the former Japan youth-team international went on to score 23 goals and provide seven assists in 167 games with Shonan, before Urawa Red Diamonds came calling in 2016.

Bu now a senior Japan cap holder, AFC Champions League, Japanese League Cup and Copa Suruga Bank honours followed with the Red Diamonds and the European scouts were beginning to circle.

Belgian first division side Sint-Truidense jumped at the chance to bring the midfield commander to their ranks in 2018 and it was there - after several stand-out performances during his 31 games for De Kanaries, that Endo was told Stuttgart were interested in acquiring his services. Just three games into the 2019/20 campaign, Endo agreed to a loan move to The Reds, who were bracing for a promotion battle to the Bundesliga.

Watch: Endo's injury-time heroics save Stuttgart 

Following a slow start that included several appearances from the bench at Die Schwaben under the then Stuttgart coach, Tim Walter, Endo soon began to feature more and more under the incoming Pellegrino Matarazzo. Indeed, the club's current No.3 would become a regular fixture in the side as Stuttgart sealed their return to the top flight following a second place finish in Bundesliga 2. A permanent move for the player was agreed ahead of time.

In his first full season at Stuttgart, Endo was the Bundesliga's leader in terms of challenges, putting in an incredible 476, and such was his importance to the team's cause, he would go on to named club captain under Matarazzo last year.

In 92 games for Stuttgart to date, Endo has scored eight goals, but it is the one he scored in the final game of the 2021/22 season that will go down in Die Roten folklore. Seemingly headed for a relegation play-off, Stuttgart were drawing 1-1 against Cologne as the game ticked into injury time. Cue pandemonium at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with Endo's stoppage time header sending home fans wild and guaranteeing Matarazzo's men a place in the Bundesliga for the 2022/23 campaign.

This means more! Endo celebrates his last-gasp winner at the end of 2021/2022. - IMAGO/Frank Hoermann / SVEN SIMO/IMAGO/Sven Simon

"I've never had a feeling like this," Stuttgart's Japanese hero said after the game. "We scored in the last two minutes. I scored! I can't believe that."

Heading into a fourth season with Die Schwaben, Endo is also keenly eyeing the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Japan are set to face Germany in their opening Group E game in Qatar, with further big games in the section coming against Costa Rica and Spain. A scorer of two goals in 41 senior internationals for the Samurai Blue, Endo can be expected to feature heavily in the global showpiece.

Plays a bit like: Claude Makelele

Constantly on the lookout for danger deep in the engine room and immediately aware of the right options going forward, Endo has all of the tough, yet accurate tackling abilities and eye for a defence-splitting pass as former France legend Makelele.

Endo in flying form for Japan against Brazil in a June 2022 friendly. - IMAGO/Takamoto Tokuhara/IMAGO/AFLOSPORT

Did you know?

Endo had the honour of being selected as captain of Japan first time in a 2-0 win over China on 27 January, 2022.

What they're saying

"As a player and as a person, he's simply incredibly valuable. He's one of these anchors, a focal point in our system. Whether he plays as a centre-back or as a defensive midfielder, it's good that he's there and performs." - Stuttgart Sporting director, Sven Mislintat

"It's important for me that our captain can take everyone with him, that he embodies the values we stand for and is an example to follow." - VfB coach Pellegrino Matarazzo 

"Ideally, I would like to lead VfB to the top, where the club used to be as German champions. I'd like to aim for the Champions League with VfB at some point. My goal is to keep developing personally, preferably in and with Stuttgart. I [also] dream of taking part in the World Cup." - Endo speaking last year