East Asia Japan

Wataru Endo Hailed as Stuttgart’s Hero with Injury Time Winner

The 2021/22 Bundesliga concluded its season over the weekend, with Bayern Munich winning their 10th straight league title, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and RB Leipzig qualifying for the Champions League, both Union Berlin and SC Freiburg going to the Europa League, 1. FC Koln booking their place in the Europa Conference League, and both Greuther Furth and Arminia Bielefeld going down to the 2.Bundesliga. There’s still drama at the lower half of the table as teams try to avoid the dreaded relegation play-off spot, however, and VfB Stuttgart managed to claw their way out of adversity in the last minute of their final match of the season, with Wataru Endo heading a 92nd minute winner against Koln that ensured their survival at the expense of Hertha Berlin, who will now face the play-off.

Both Stuttgart and Koln had plenty to play for in their final game of the season at the former’s Mercedes-Benz Arena. A win for Stuttgart meant that Die Schwaben would avoid the dreaded relegation play-off against this season’s 2.Bundesliga bronze medalists Hamburg SV, while a win for Koln would upgrade their European ticket from the Europa Conference League to the Europa League.

The hosts started the brighter of the two and they managed to earn themselves a 12th minute penalty following a foul on Tiago Tomas. Sasa Kalajdzic missed his spot-kick but made amends for it two minutes later with a powerful header following a Christian Fuhrich’s corner that gave Stuttgart the lead.

Anthony Modeste scored Koln’s equalizer in the 60th minute and as things stood it seems that Stuttgart are set for a post-season play-off against Hamburg for a spot in next season’s Bundesliga.

However, Stuttgart’s Japanese contingents in Endo and Hiroki Ito had other ideas.

With closest rivals Hertha losing 2-1 away at Dortmund, Stuttgart were given a corner in the 92nd minute. With a draw still ensuring the play-offs for Stuttgart, Ito flicked the ball towards the path of Stuttgart captain Endo, who headed the ball past Koln goalkeeper Florian Muller.

Almost immediately the Mercedes-Benz Arena went into pandemonium and the celebrations became even more intense after the referee had blown for full-time. Stuttgart’s last-minute win, combined with Hertha’s loss at Dortmund, meant that it was the capital club that will take on Hamburg in the play-offs, with Stuttgart finishing above Hertha equal on points but with a superior goal difference.

“It’s unbelievable how the stadium exploded. I can’t be any happier,” said Endo in a post-match interview, as quoted from Kyodo, “I had a strong desire to play in the first division next season, and that was the most important thing.”