Wataru Endo has responded to Jurgen Klopp's joke that he doesn't wish the Japan star luck in his bid to secure the Asian Cup this month, instead preferring an early elimination so his midfielder can return to Liverpool sooner.
Endo kicked off his Asian Cup campaign in Qatar with a win on Sunday, with his side beating underdogs Vietnam 4-2 in hard-fought game.
The 30-year-old Liverpool star completed the full 90 minutes as captain in the Group D opener and registered an assist, setting up former Reds star Takumi Minamino on the stroke of half-time, which pulled the Samurai Blue level at 2-2.
It was the second goal of the game for Minamino, who starred for his national side in their tournament curtain raiser.
Despite earning all three points, it was an unexpectedly difficult contest for Endo and co, who also face Indonesia and Iraq in the group phase in their bid to reach the last 16.
Should Japan make it all the way to the final on 10 February, Endo could miss as many as eight games for Liverpool – something Klopp joked he wouldn't be happy to see happen.
The manager recently told reporters: "I said, if I wish you good luck, it would be a lie!
"That's not what I did, obviously. From a personal point of view, I would be happy if they went out of the group stage but it's probably not possible, and then they can go and win it as well.
"Good luck, see you, come back healthy, that's pretty much the words. Now we have to deal with it and will deal with it."
Speaking before the game against Vietnam, Endo was asked about his club manager's questionable words of encouragement, commenting that he feels 'honoured' to be needed for his club.
He told reporters: "Of course the coach meant that as a joke but I do feel very honoured that he feels I need to be back at Liverpool. I'm here now, I'm the captain of the team and all I'm thinking about is bringing the trophy back to Liverpool."
Meanwhile, after the opening fixture of the group, the Reds' No.3 posted on social media: "Was tough game but glad to win the first game of the tournament! Keep it going!!"
— 遠藤 航 (Wataru Endo) (@wataru0209) January 14, 2024
Japan and Endo's second match versus Iraq takes place on Friday, 19 January, before the Samurai Blue conclude their group fixtures against Indonesia on Wednesday, 24 January.
Games can be caught on on subscription service TrillerTV in the UK, while fans in the USA can stream the tournament on Paramount+.