DOHA, QATAR - Sunday, November 27, 2022: Japan's Wataru Endo during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Japan and Costa Rica at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Costa Rica won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Japan KNOCKED OUT of Asian Cup – Wataru Endo returns to Liverpool

Late, late drama at the Asian Cup saw favourites Japan knocked out by Iran deep into stoppage time, meaning Wataru Endo will now travel back to Liverpool.

Heading into the tournament in Qatar, Japan were widely viewed as favourites to win the Asian Cup outright.

After finishing second behind Iraq in Group D, Hajime Moriyasu’s side overcame Bahrain in the last 16 to set up a quarter-final against Iran.

But after taking the lead in the tie on Saturday through midfielder Hidemasa Morita, Japan went on to suffer a second-half collapse and exit early.

Iran equalised soon after the break through Mohammad Mohebi, going on to dominate play with 17 shots to Japan’s eight, and four on target to two.

DOHA, QATAR - Wednesday, November 23, 2022: Japan players line-up for a team group photograph before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium. Back row L-R: goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, Hiroki Sakai, Ko Itakura, Ao Tanaka, Water Endo, Maya Yoshida. Front row L-R: Junya Ito, Takefusa Kubo, Daizen Maeda, Yuto Nagatomo, Daichi Kamada. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The quarter-final looked to be trailing to extra time when Liverpool centre-back target Ko Itakura fouled Hossein Kanaani in the box and, after a long VAR review, Iran were awarded a penalty.

Ex-Brighton attacking midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh put the spot-kick away in the sixth minute of stoppage time, knocking Japan out.

Iran go on to play either hosts Qatar or Uzbekistan in the semi-finals on February 7, while Japan will instead head home.

That means Endo will rejoin his Liverpool team-mates at the AXA Training Centre next week, and could come back into contention for the visit of Burnley in the Premier League on February 10.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 6, 2023: Liverpool's Wataru Endo during the FA Premier League match between Sheffield United FC and Liverpool FC at Bramall Lane. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will be obvious disappointment for the 30-year-old, who played every minute of all five games as captain for Japan, but it can be seen as a positive for those on Merseyside.

In Endo’s absence, though, the fit-again Alexis Mac Allister has reclaimed his starting spot as No. 6 and produced an excellent run of form.

It is likely that Endo will take a place on the bench on his return, with fierce competition for places now with the recovery of Thiago, who could also be in the squad against Burnley.

There is a chance that Mohamed Salah is also fit for that clash at Anfield, leaving only Joel Matip (ACL), Stefan Bajcetic (calf) and Ben Doak (MCL) on the absentee list.